Options When Your Treatment Isn’t Working

Sometimes, the first or second treatment that you have for your advanced colon cancer doesn’t work. But for some people, no treatments are effective.

If your treatments aren’t working the way you need them to, you have options.

Clinical Trials

When regular treatments stop working, experimental treatments may or may not hold promise. Researchers test them through clinical trials. (They aren’t available to people who aren’t part of the trial.) There’s no guarantee that such a treatment will help, but many people feel it’s worth a try.

Experimental treatments can have side effects, including unknown ones that researchers don’t expect.

To enroll in a clinical trial, talk to your doctor.

If you’re selected for a trial, ask about risks and side effects so you can decide if you want to move forward.

Palliative Care

If you have pain, nausea, or other side effects from your colon cancer or treatments for it, ask your doctor about this option. You can get palliative care whether you get cancer treatments or not.  Its goal is to improve how you feel and your quality of life.

You’ll be assigned a team of caregivers, including doctors and nurses. They’ll ask about your goals for palliative care, then create a plan to meet your needs.

With palliative care, you’ll feel better than if you didn’t have the additional support, which can greatly impact your health. Some people who get cancer treatments while getting palliative care live longer, likely because their improved quality of life helps them fare better.

Stopping Treatment

Many cancer treatments are tough to endure. They can make you feel exhausted, nauseous, or sick in other ways. If you’ve dealt with side effects through several treatments but haven’t improved, you may decide that it isn’t worth trying other treatments that show even less promise.

There may come a point when dealing with side effects that compromise your quality of life may not make things better and therefore may not be worth going through. It’s a personal choice that may not be right for everyone.


Hospice Care

If you decide to stop cancer treatment, your doctor may talk to you about hospice care. This service may be offered to people who are expected to live 6 months or less. Hospice care provides dignity and helps make your final weeks or months as comfortable as possible. You can get hospice care in your home, the hospital, a nursing home, or a hospice center.

You’ll be assigned a team of caregivers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains. They’ll help manage your pain, nausea, and other physical symptoms, and they’ll involve your family members in the decision-making process as much as you’d like.

Your hospice team will also focus on your emotional and spiritual needs, to help you get the most out of the time that you have left. They may help you have important conversations with loved ones to tell them how much they mean to you or to say goodbye. And they can offer counseling for depression or other issues as you process your emotions during the end-of-life period.

It’s important to note that while hospice care stops things like chemo and radiation, it doesn’t have to end treatments for other conditions caused by your cancer. For example, you’d still want oxygen or an inhaler for lung cancer so that your breathing can be as solid as possible.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on August 13, 2018



American Cancer Society: “If cancer treatments stop working.”

National Cancer Institute: “Deciding to take part in a clinical trial.”

National Library of Medicine: “ClinicalTrials.gov.” 

Center to Advance Palliative Care: “What is palliative care?”

Mayo Clinic: “Colon cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “What is hospice care?”

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