Ten years ago, a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis was often considered a death sentence.

But that’s not true today.

Dr. Karim Tazi

Novant Health hematologist and oncologist Dr. Karim Tazi at Novant Health Cancer Institute – Huntersville said that even if a patient receives the unfortunate diagnosis of advanced cancer, there can be a lot of reasons to remain hopeful.

Not only does cancer treatment keep improving, but the long-term survival rate for patients with Stage 4 cancer has grown. As every month passes, Tazi said, oncologists have access to new data and new treatment methods that can prolong and improve quality of life.

Here are answers to common questions that patients ask about a Stage 4 four cancer diagnosis:

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How long do I have?

Patients want to know how much longer they have left to live — they think in terms of three months, six months or a year. But I never put a timeline on it because I’d be wrong 100% of the time.

But it’s also important to be truthful. I always tell patients to prepare for the worst, but also give them tangible and real examples of patients who were able to control their cancer for many years.

Why this treatment?

Doctors can’t assume a particular treatment is best for every single patient. We must educate patients about their disease, available treatment options, answer their questions and help them decide what option is best for them. It’s important to go through the pros and cons of each one. Sometimes, one approach is more advisable than others, but it’s our job to explain to them why. Ultimately, patients will make their treatment decision depending on their values and goals.

If a patient says to me, “I don’t want to take this treatment,” I always ask why. I want to make sure they don’t have any misconceptions about their treatment, and I can help answer any questions they might have.

What’s the difference between remission and a cure?

Remission means there’s no evidence of cancer and that it looks like the cancer has not come back. Generally, the odds of cancer returning decreases over time. If we talk about a patient who had a curative intent treatment (like surgery), we can say that they are “cured” at the five-year mark. This means the chance of this cancer returning is extremely small.

Can I just live with the cancer to avoid treatment side effects?

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