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What Is Advanced Cancer?

Being diagnosed with advanced cancer is hard enough, but it's even worse if you and your healthcare provider don't agree on the same definition of the term. What is advanced cancer, medically speaking? Simply put, it is cancer that cannot be cured. It is often confused with metastatic cancer, recurrent cancer, and other types of cancer, but these are not necessarily the same thing.


What Does "Advanced Cancer" Mean?

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, waiting to hear the results of what type of cancer you have can be an excruciating experience. And when the news finally comes, "advanced cancer" is probably the last thing you want to hear. But what exactly does your doctor mean by this term?
"Advanced cancer" refers to cancer that cannot be cured. This means the cancer will not go away or stay away, even with treatment. When cancer cannot be cured, it is likely going to grow and spread to other areas of your body, and will eventually end your life.
In many cases, the term "advanced cancer" is used when the cancer has started to spread to other areas of the body. However, this isn't necessarily the right terminology. When the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it is called "metastatic cancer." It's important not to confuse the two terms. Just because a cancer is advanced, does not mean it is metastatic.
As an example, some people may develop brain cancer that is considered advanced because it cannot be cured. Even though this cancer hasn't spread to other areas of the body, it is still considered life threatening because it cannot be cured.
This also holds true for metastatic cancer. Just because a cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it does not mean that the disease is advanced. There are some cancers that may spread to various parts of the body and still be curable.
Another term that may be confusing is "locally advanced cancer." This type of cancer has grown outside of the organ it originally started in, but has not spread to other parts of the body. For these types of cancers, the term "advanced" may be confusing. For instance, locally advanced pancreatic cancer is usually not curable; however, some other types of locally advanced cancers, such as some prostate cancers, may be curable.
Before you jump to any conclusions, make sure you find out exactly what your healthcare provider means by "advanced" cancer. In some cases, he or she may simply mean that the cancer is metastatic and has spread. So before thinking the worst, make sure you ask your healthcare provider how he or she defines the terms.
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