Though each type of cancer is different, there are certain treatments that may be common to many of them at stage 4, where cancer has spread to other areas or body systems. Surgery to remove cancer from other areas of the body might be a part of stage 4 cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are also used frequently. Attention is given to supportive care in the form of pain relievers, anti-emetics, supplements, and mental heath support. Some patients don’t want treatment at this point and may only seek care that improves quality of life.
Chemotherapy and radiation are used because they may stop or reverse some cancer progression. When they work fully, cancer may be eradicated, but this is rare. Others times patients experience slowing of cancer spread, which is life extending. Depending on the type of cancer, roughly 10-15% of people at stage 4 may improve survivability up to five years. Some types of cancer are so severe that the survival percentage is much smaller.
Surgery generally helps improve survival rates, too. Removing new cancer, if it doesn’t result in severe impairment, can be a benefit. Surgery is almost always used with chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Many people at this stage participate in clinical trials. These trials improve medical knowledge about cancer and, in some cases, effectively provide stage 4 cancer treatment that isn’t available to most patients. A number of these trials use a treatment and a placebo. This means that not all participants in a trial will receive the medication or intervention that is under investigation. Still, patients may feel these risks are justified by their potential access to new treatments.
Promoting patient comfort in stage 4 cancer treatment is an important goal. Some cancers or their treatments cause bodily discomfort. Significant thought may need to be given to pain management or management of problems arising from treatment, like vomiting from chemotherapy. Keeping patients healthy is another objective, which could be accomplished through special diets, drugs that boost the immune system, and gentle exercise or meditative practices promoting calm.
Mental health assistance is often advised in stage 4 cancer treatment and in earlier stages. It’s an understatement to say that advanced cancer results in stress. Moreover, both individual and family mental health treatment might be suggested because all family members need help coping with this issue.
Not all patients seek stage 4 cancer treatment because the options of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can diminish health in serious ways. With certain cancers, the risk of surviving or even greatly extending life may be so low that people would prefer to prepare for death in greater comfort. For these individuals, treatment focuses on improving quality of life for its duration and providing hospice support and mental health care as needed.