Terminal cancer refers to cancer that can’t be cured or treated. It’s sometimes also called end-stage cancer. Any type of cancer can become terminal cancer. Terminal cancer is different from advanced cancer. Like terminal cancer, advanced cancer isn’t curable. But it does respond to treatment, which may slow down its progression. Terminal cancer doesn’t respond to treatment. As a result, treating terminal cancer focuses on making someone as comfortable as possible (e.g. hospice or end of life care
Generally, terminal cancer shortens someone’s life expectancy. But someone’s actual life expectancy depends on several factors, including:
Doctors often rely on a mixture of clinical experience and intuition when determining someone’s life expectancy. But studies suggest that this estimate is usually incorrect and overly optimistic.
To help combat this, researchers and doctors have come up with several sets of guidelines to help oncologists and palliative care doctors give people a more realistic idea of their life expectancy. Examples of these guidelines include:
While these estimates aren’t always accurate, they do serve an important purpose. They can help people and their doctors make decisions, establish goals, and work toward end-of-life plans.