What is terminal cancer?
Some cases of cancer can be treated. However, a cancer is described as terminal if it cannot be cured or treated. It’s sometimes also called end-stage cancer.
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There’s difference between terminal cancer and advanced cancer. Terminal cancer and advanced cancer cannot be cured. Terminal cancer does not respond to treatment, but advanced cancer does respond to treatment, which may slow down its progression. Since terminal cancer cannot be treated, its main objective is to focus on making someone comfortable.
Life expectancy of someone with terminal cancer
A person’s life expectancy becomes shortened with terminal cancer. However, a person’s actual life expectancy depends on several factors, including:
- general health
- type of cancer they have
- whether they have any other health conditions
In terminal cases, when doctors are determining a person’s life expectancy, they often depend on a mixture of clinical experience and intuition. But studies suggest that this estimate is usually improper.
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Now researchers and doctors have come up with several sets of strategies to help oncologists and palliative care doctors give people a more realistic idea of their life expectancy. Examples of these guidelines include:
- Karnofsky performance scale:This helps doctors to estimate a person’s general level of functioning, including their ability to carry out daily activities. The score is given as a percentage. The lower the score, the shorter the life expectancy.
- Palliative prognostic score:This uses a person’s score on the Karnofsky performance scale, white blood cell and lymphocyte counts, and other factors to produce a score between 0 and 17.5. The higher the score, the shorter the life expectancy.
Though these estimates aren’t always precise, but they do serve a vital purpose – to help people and their doctors make decisions, establish goals like bucket list, and work toward end-of-life plans.
What are the other treatments for terminal cancer?
There is no cure for terminal cancer. This means no treatment will kill the cancer. However, treatments that can reduce the side effects of both the cancer and any medications can be use.
The decision for the treatment plan in most cases will always have to be taken by the patient, even though doctors have some contributions. Some with terminal cancer prefer to stop all treatments due to undesirable side effects.
Some patients may choose to take part in experimental clinical trials.
The treatments used in these trials likely won’t cure terminal cancer, but they contribute to the medical community’s greater understanding of cancer treatment. Their decisions can potentially help future generations.
Alternative treatments like massage therapy, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques can also be beneficial for those with terminal cancer. These techniques can help ease pain and discomfort while also decreasing stress.
Most doctors also recommend people with terminal cancer meet with a psychologist to help deal with anxiety and depression which are common in people with terminal cancer.
What to do after terminal cancer diagnosis
It can be very devastating to receive a diagnosis of terminal cancer. This can make it hard to know what next to do. There’s no right or wrong way to proceed, but these steps may help if you’re unsure what to do next.
Accept your emotions
It is normal to go through series of overwhelming emotions after a terminal cancer diagnosis. Try to give yourself time to acknowledge your feelings. Remember there’s no exact way to react to a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out for support from friends and family. You can discuss with your doctor if you cannot do this. They can refer you to local resources and services that can help.
Questions to ask your doctor
After receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, your doctor might be the last person you want to talk to. But these questions can help start a dialogue about the next steps:
- What’s my life expectancy? Having a timeline of your life expectancy can help you make choices you can control, whether that’s taking a trip, catching up with friends and family.
- What can I expect in the coming days, weeks, months, or years? This question is to help understand what’s to come down the road, allowing you to better prepare yourself to face them.
- Are there any tests that can give a better idea of my life expectancy? This will help you and your doctor have a better understanding of life expectancy. It can also help your doctor prepare you for proper palliative care.