What happens when I stop cancer treatment?

The decision to stop treatment for metastatic breast cancer is a very personal one that a patient makes together with his or her oncologist. A person may decide to stop active cancer treatment because it has stopped helping or because it greatly impacts quality of life.

Once treatment for the breast cancer has stopped, palliative care becomes the main focus of treatment.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a type of health care that centers on the management and prevention of symptoms and side effects related to cancer and its treatment, such as pain, nausea, and fatigue.

Palliative care works best when it’s integrated early in metastatic cancer care, no matter the prognosis or type of treatment.

Palliative care also helps patients and family members address spiritual and emotional issues and get support for making decisions about treatments and other care. It also includes grief counseling.

Studies have found palliative care improves patients’ quality of life and maintains or improves survival [5].

Who provides palliative care?

In many cases, a patient’s primary oncology team is able to provide most of the palliative care [6].

Unfortunately, some doctors still equate palliative care with end-of-life care and may delay referring someone to palliative care until very late in life.

To get the most from palliative care, patients and their families may need to be open and proactive in asking their oncology teams for help with symptom management or other issues related to palliative care.

What about end-of-life or hospice care?

End-of-life care is a key part of palliative care that focuses on meeting the needs of patients and their families toward the end of life.

Hospice is a specific part of end-of-life care that works to preserve quality of life and allows a person to die as comfortably as possible. Hospice care can begin when a patient has less than six months to live and active cancer treatment has stopped.

Hospice is usually given at home. It can also be given as in-patient care at a freestanding hospice house or at a hospital with hospice services.