Questions about supportive and palliative care

You may reach a stage where your doctors tell you there are no more treatments available to control the cancer. It can be very upsetting and shocking to be told that your illness can’t be cured.

You will probably have many questions about what will happen next. You will be given a key worker, who will help you get the information you need.

Although treatments may not be able to cure the cancer, you will be given palliative care to ensure you have a good quality of life. Palliative care reduces symptoms (for example, pain or tiredness) towards the end of life. It is not aimed at curing the cancer.

It can be difficult to know what questions you need to ask and how to prepare for the end of life. You may want to ask about:

  • the type of support available
  • who will be responsible for your care
  • who you can ask for help or emotional support
  • making arrangements for when you die
  • family support after you die.

Our cancer support specialists can talk to you about any questions and worries you have. You can call them free on 0808 808 00 00.

Questions you can ask about who will support you

You may reach a stage where your doctors tell you there are no more treatments available to control the cancer. It can be very upsetting and shocking to be told that your illness can’t be cured, and you may need help and support to cope with this news.

Although this can be a particularly difficult time, there’s a lot that can be done to maintain your quality of life for as long as possible, and control any symptoms you have.

Palliative care is care that reduces symptoms (for example pain or tiredness) towards the end of life, but is not designed to bring about a cure. Palliative care is not only aimed at helping with physical problems, but with psychological and spiritual ones too.

Who will take responsibility for identifying any new care needs I may have? Will someone offer support to me and my family?

Your key worker, who is usually your specialist nurse, will be your first point of contact. They can help you get help and support from other healthcare professionals involved in your care, such as your GP or district nurse.

Your key worker should also take responsibility for making sure all the palliative care needs you and your family have are recognised and met. These needs could be physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual.

Will I be able to talk to a palliative care professional, such as a specialist nurse or consultant?

You should be able to talk to a nurse and doctor who understand your condition. If you need more support than you’re getting from the healthcare professionals you’re already seeing, you can be put in touch with specialist staff for palliative care.

What if I need help overnight or at the weekend?

You should be able to contact your district nurse, who can tell you about the care available during the night or at weekends. If you need more specialist support, the district nurse can refer you to a specialist palliative care professional. You should be told about these arrangements.

Who do I go to first if I need help or have questions?

Your care should be overseen by a designated key worker. The staff looking after you should tell you who this person is and how to contact them.

Who else can I talk to about how I’m feeling? What support is available for my family?

You and your family should have good practical and emotional support whenever you or they need it. You can ask for support from your GP or from the hospital where you had your treatment. You can also call us on 0808 808 00 00.

Will I be involved in decisions about which types of treatment and care I receive at this stage?

You should be involved in these decisions as much as possible. Your palliative care doctor should ask your views early on so they can influence their plans. Your palliative care doctor should also give you good information and evidence about all the choices available.

There are ways that you can plan ahead and make choices about your future care, for example by writing down your wishes for how you’d like to be cared for. The ways people can plan ahead vary across the four nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). We have information about planning ahead across the four nations that's relevant to where you live.

If I die, will I be able to die where I want to?

Whenever possible, you should be able to die where you and your relatives choose. If you want to die at home, you should be offered support services to help make this possible.

If I die, who will offer my family support?

The people looking after you should make sure bereavement care is offered to your family. There are many organisations that run groups for people who are grieving, such as Cruse Bereavement Care.

Call our cancer support specialists free on 0808 808 00 00 for support and more information about the support available to your family.

You may find it helpful to read our information about coping with advanced cancer.

Our section on radiotherapy has more details about this treatment and its side effects.

We have information about the end of life, including practical things you might need to consider, the support that’s available and what you can expect.

Back to Questions to ask

Asking questions

Your healthcare team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Questions after diagnosis

Asking questions during and after your diagnosis can make it easier to understand what is happening and why.