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Receiving the news that your cancer is not curable

Woman looking into the distance

When you find out that your cancer is incurable, it is not unusual to feel frightened, angry or shocked about what is happening to you. 

Some people might find out that their cancer is incurable when they are first diagnosed, while others might have cancer that has come back after treatment or has spread. Most people experience a lot of powerful emotions when they receive this news. 

Some people might live with the knowledge of their incurable cancer for a long time. This might mean having lots of different treatments to control the cancer, and during this time many women carry on with their day-to-day lives. Some people might become too unwell to continue treatment, or it might not be possible to control the cancer any longer. In these cases, your clinical team will focus on making you as comfortable as possible and treating any painful or distressing symptoms

Husband and wife

One of the questions you might have is, "How long will I live?" Nobody will be able to give you an exact answer to this question and your clinical team may be reluctant to give you any timescale even if you ask them. You may be told that you have weeks or months to live but it's really important to remember that this is just an estimate. You may live longer or, unfortunately, for less time than this. But you have the opportunity to make the most of your future. You still have choices. 

This may mean spending time with people you love, going on trips when your energy levels are good, and taking the time to spoil yourself. 

Sharing the news

Hearing that your cancer is incurable can be incredibly difficult. You may find it hard to think clearly, or may be in shock, even if you were aware that your cancer was progressing. It is not unusual to feel both shocked and unsurprised by the news. Some people might want to be alone at this time to help them absorb and process the news. Others might wish to spend more time with the people who are closest to them to talk about what is happening. Or you might not know how you feel. There is no right or wrong way to share this news with others, or what you choose to share. You might want to wait a few days before you tell others, and you might then only want to tell close family and friends. You might even want to ask someone close to you to let others know on your behalf. 

The reactions of others

You might find that talking openly and honestly to others about your diagnosis can be a great help in coming to terms with what is happening to you. But perhaps this is a frightening thought and you are worried about the reactions of your friends and relatives. People who love and care about you might feel shocked and upset at hearing that your cancer is no longer curable and you might find yourself feeling as though you need to look after other people's emotions as they deal with your news.

Mother and son

Some women find that talking to a professional - a counsellor or their Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) - helps them feel more able to prepare for these conversations. You might also want to encourage those close to you to speak to your CNS to help understand your diagnosis and some of their own anxieties. Target Ovarian Cancer and your CNS can provide information about where family and friends can find additional support. 

Spending time with people you love or care about and doing the things that mean a lot can help to make this time special. Some people find that taking control of practical things such as decisions about treatment and planning for the future also helps them to make sense of their news.

Find out more

The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.

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Last reviewed: May 2017
Next review: April 2020