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The most commonly used treatments for cancer include surgery|, radiotherapy| and anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapy|, hormonal therapy| and targeted therapies|).
It’s likely that the person you’re caring for may want you to be with them at different times during the diagnosis and treatment of their cancer.
Some people like to have a high level of independence for as long as possible, while others prefer to have someone with them for most of the time. The amount of support they need may vary from week to week, depending on what’s happening to them and how they’re coping.
Practical tip from other carers
|Many healthcare professionals will only give you the information you ask for, so you may find it helpful to make a list of questions before talking to them. And don’t be afraid to ask something more than once if there’s anything you don’t understand.
Our booklet, Hello, and how are you? [PDF, 194]| is written by carers, for carers and contains more advice like this.
Going for investigations and tests, and waiting for results, can be an unsettling time. There may be a number of visits to the hospital for different appointments before the doctors can confirm someone has cancer. This can take up a lot of time.
There may be more visits after this so doctors can find out more about the cancer and decide how best to treat it. Usually appointments are booked in advance so that you can arrange time off work if needed.
It can be a very difficult time when a relative or friend is told they have cancer. You will both need time to come to terms with the change in your circumstances and you may feel a range of emotions. This may affect your ability to work effectively.
During this time you may want to think about talking to your line manager or the human resources department| at work.
The aim of cancer treatment for many people is to cure the cancer. In some cancers that are very slow-growing, or that have spread beyond their original area of the body, the aim may be to control the cancer and delay its progress. For other people, cancer treatment is given to help relieve their symptoms, for example, during palliative treatment.
Cancer treatment is different for each person and depends on factors such as the stage and grade of the cancer (how far it has spread and how fast-growing it is), the person’s age and their general health.
The main treatments used are surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The following are brief explanations of these treatments, and how they may affect your role as a carer.
It’s fairly common for a combination of treatments to be used. The doctors and nurses can give you further information about the treatments involved and their effects.
Some operations| for cancer will mean the person you care for needs to stay in hospital for a short time. Sometimes, depending on the situation, the stay may be longer.
There may be a period of time after the surgery when they are recovering and need more support. You may want to visit them in the hospital quite often during their admission, and this can be very tiring if you’re working too.
You may also want to take time off work to care for them in the days and weeks when they first come home. It’s important to allow yourself plenty of time to rest|.
Radiotherapy| treats cancer by using high-energy rays. It’s typically given as an outpatient at a specialist unit on a daily basis, from Monday-Friday, over a few weeks. Although each treatment takes only a few minutes, the travel time might add considerably to the amount of time you need away from work.
Some people are able to travel to and from their treatment sessions without any problems, but others may need some help with their transport. It may be possible to arrange transport to take your relative or friend to their appointments. Some GP surgeries can arrange volunteer drivers and the hospital may be able to help. You could also ask family and friends about setting up a rota. This is a time when working from home may be useful and it may be worth discussing this with your employer.
Some people may need to stay in hospital while having treatment. This may affect how much time off you might need if you want to be near them and the hospital is some distance away.
There are different types of anti-cancer drugs used in the treatment of cancer, and these fall into three main groups: cytotoxic drugs, targeted therapies and hormonal treatments.
Cytotoxic drugs and targeted therapies are usually given in a chemotherapy unit in the hospital over a period of several months. Cytotoxic drugs are what most of us think of as ‘chemotherapy|’. Targeted therapies are a newer group of treatments that work by targeting the growth of cancer cells. Treatment is usually given every two or three weeks at scheduled times.
Each session will usually involve an afternoon or a full day in the chemotherapy unit, but sometimes, it may involve a stay overnight or for a few days. This will depend on the type of cancer being treated and the anti-cancer drugs used.
It’s a good idea to plan ahead for each visit, especially if you will be there for a few hours. You may want to:
Cytotoxic and targeted therapies are usually given regularly, however delays in treatment can sometimes occur, for example, if a person needs longer to recover from the side effects of treatment. It can help to explain this to your key contact at work and try to plan for the unexpected wherever possible.
Hormonal therapies| are drugs that can stop or slow the growth of cancer cells by either changing the level of particular hormones in the body, or preventing the hormones affecting the cancer cells. Most hormonal therapies are given as tablets, but some are given as injections every few weeks or months.
Treatment can be stressful and exhausting and you may find that the person experiences mood swings that are out of character. It can help both of you to have some time alone.
We have detailed information about these treatments|, the individual drugs and ways of coping with the side effects.
Once the main treatments are finished, your relative or friend may have follow-up appointments and further treatment. This can include things such as ongoing medication and check-ups, scans and physiotherapy.
Many people who have been treated for cancer worry that it will come back. They might think that any new symptoms they have are caused by the cancer, when in reality they may not be related to the cancer at all. This uncertainty can be difficult at a time when they feel they should be getting back to normal.
You can read other carers' advice about caring for someone with cancer in our booklet Hello, and how are you? [PDF, 914 kb]| - a guide written by carers, for carers.
Content last reviewed: 1 May 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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