Late Stages

Late stages of cancer are a very trying time for patients and loved ones. Patients going through the late stages of cancer often change physically, mentally, and emotionally. The late stages of cancer manifest very differently depending on the type of cancer and the patient.

Changes during Late Stages of Cancer

Physical Changes

When a patient reaches the late stages of cancer, the patient’s physical routines often change drastically. The patient may sleep for much longer than usual, and be confused and disoriented upon waking, or have difficulty waking. Depending on the type of cancer, the patient may have difficulty breathing and breathe noisily.

Patients may also experience the following symptoms during late stages of cancer:

  • Restless movements
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Lower body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing that affects eating and drinking
  • Decreased ability to talk and comprehend


Mental and Emotional Changes

Patients that are in the late stages of cancer have the strong possibility of death to contend with. Patients and loved ones handle this news differently in each case. Some patients have a strong will to live, and continue to fight. Others are more accepting of death, and begin to give up on treatments. Patients may manifest a whole array of emotions including anger, sadness, apathy, repentance, and joy. Loved ones have a tremendous impact on the way that the patient is feeling during the late stages of life, and should take care to make patients as comfortable as possible.

Caring for a Patient in Late Stages of Cancer

It is difficult for doctors to accurately gauge the amount of time that a patient will live once the patient has entered the late stages of cancer. In some cases, lifestyle changes or other circumstances may prolong the patient’s life. For this reason, many patients opt to stay at home after entering the late stages of cancer. It is a comfortable environment, so patients are less afraid and more at ease than in a hospital setting.

Loved ones can help make late stage cancer patients as comfortable as possible by:

  • Using foam cushions on bedding and chairs
  • Helping patient to change positions often
  • Changing bedding and clothing often
  • Speaking calmly to the patient and helping them to avoid disorientation
  • Offering drinks with a straw
  • Keeping lips moist using a balm
  • Massaging the patient to alleviate pain and soothe them
  • Showing compassion and love


When caring for a loved one with late stage cancer, there should be a medical professional that the family can call for questions. Loved ones can often handle medications and basic medical care with guidance from a medical professional. However, when a patient is unable to perform basic functions, loved ones may need the help of skilled caregivers or hospice workers.

The patient should be spoken to at some point about wishes. Although the conversation may be difficult, patients may have strong beliefs about issues such as resuscitation and what will be done with remains, and this should be addressed and understood by loved ones. While all loved ones may not agree with the patient’s wishes, these wishes should be followed.

Hospice for Late Stages of Cancer Care

If the patient is in constant pain or has advanced organ failure, the patient can be made the most comfortable in hospice care. Hospice focuses on providing pain relief, as well as spiritual and emotional support. Hospice is not intended to cure patients, but to alleviate symptoms as much as possible during the last stages of life.

The medications given in hospice are not intended to either shorten or lengthen the patient’s life. If a patient goes into remission, the patient can be moved to other forms of treatment. Hospice care can continue for up to six months, and many patients and loved ones find it to be very helpful.




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“What Happens in the Final Days of Life?” Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research UK, 15 Aug 2012. Web. 1 Nov 2013. <>.