Because doctors cannot cure advanced cancer, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and slowing its progression, according to the American Cancer Society. Advanced cancer has usually metastasized to other parts of the body, so systemic treatment that reaches cancer cells throughout the body, such as hormone therapy or chemotherapy, is a cornerstone of an aggressive treatment plan.
For people with advanced cancer, doctors tailor the treatment plan to the patients' own specific goals regarding their quality of life, notes the American Cancer Society. People interested in extending their lifespan can choose to undergo a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments recommended by their doctor. Sometimes treatments for advanced cancer can increase a patient's lifespan for many years. If a patient does not want to slow the progression of their cancer, their doctor may focus on relieving uncomfortable symptoms, such as upset stomach, vomiting or pain, with prescription medication.
Some doctors use the term locally advanced cancer to describe a cancer that extends beyond the originating organ but has not spread throughout the body, explains the American Cancer Society. Treatment can cure some of these locally advanced cancers, depending on their location.
Recurrent cancer is more difficult to treat, but it is not necessarily advanced cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Advanced recurrent cancer usually occurs far away from the site of the original cancer diagnosis. Doctors can possibly cure cancer confined to the area near the original cancer site.