Dealing with an advanced-stage cancer diagnosis

June 25, 2019 | by Maria Quejada, M.D.

Once cancer is diagnosed, a process called staging is often conducted to determine the extent of the disease. Doctors use a range of clinical and pathological testing to identify where cancer is in the body to predict how it may progress and help plan an appropriate course of treatment. 

When the staging process identifies advanced disease, it’s important for patients to become informed about their particular cancer, options, and their future. In spite of this diagnosis, patients are still in charge of their lives and as oncologists, we support them in every way possible to continue to enjoy a high quality of life.

When diagnosed with an advanced stage cancer, consider the following:

Identify a support person. When I first meet with a new patient, I go through their diagnosis and test results. I explain everything I can about their cancer, the stage, what they can expect and what options they have. This is a lot to take in and can be difficult to absorb. If possible, identify a support person to bring to your visits. This extra set of ears can be helpful as you’re processing the information. They may also think of questions that don’t come to mind for you in the moment.

Understand your options. With advanced stage cancers, the oncologist’s focus is often on treating and controlling symptoms of the disease instead of curing it. The goal is not only to help a patient live longer, but to do so with good quality of life. Share details about your life that help your doctor create a treatment plan that’s best for you. Are you physically active or do you enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle? Do you love to travel? Our goal is to create a plan that fits into your life and allows you to continue to enjoy the things you love, with the fewest side effects possible.

Consider a second opinion. It can be challenging to bring this up in conversation, but I always encourage my patients to get a second opinion if they’re interested in doing so. An advanced stage cancer diagnosis is life changing and having a second opinion, ideally from a university setting or clinical trial, may lead to a critical new perspective or recommendation. Most doctors will be happy to recommend another provider or help facilitate the second opinion process.

Become informed. Talking to your doctor and studying the information shared is an important part of dealing with any cancer diagnosis. Take notes during visits and read any pamphlets or information provided. While I don’t discourage my patients from Internet research, I do advise they choose to seek supplemental information from high-quality online sources, such as the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute. Using these reputable resources ensures you’re reading well-researched and evidence-based information.

Once treatment options are selected, there may be more resources available to you. For instance, at Edward-Elmhurst Health, we offer many cancer support services that help patients understand what to expect, manage certain symptoms and side effects, and deal with an advanced stage cancer diagnosis.

Lean on your medical team. Throughout your entire cancer experience, keep asking questions. Whether you want to discuss advice from a well-meaning family member or friend or ask about a symptom or side effect, you should always feel comfortable reaching out to your physician or medical team. Asking and getting the answer is far better than spending time wondering or worrying about something on your own. Prepare for visits by writing out a list of questions, or call the office with your concerns. We’re here for you every step of the way.

Edward-Elmhurst Health offers three state-of-the art cancer centers in Naperville, Elmhurst and Plainfield, each with expert care teams that focus on your individual physical and emotional needs. Learn more.

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

Maria's story: Beating breast cancer


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