When someone is considering stopping chemotherapy, they may want a second opinion, find out if other treatment options are available, and talk with family and loved ones about the decision.

Sometimes, chemotherapy treatment stops working, does not work well, or significantly affects a person’s quality of life.

Deciding whether to stop chemotherapy is a highly personal decision. But doctors and other healthcare professionals can offer support and advice while a person considers their options.

This article discusses decisions around stopping chemotherapy, what experts might recommend, and how stopping chemotherapy affects a person’s life.

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Sometimes, chemotherapy treatment stops being effective, and the cancer no longer responds to the chemotherapy and continues to grow. This may be when a person begins to think about whether they want to continue treatment.

A doctor can help a person understand the benefits and risks of continuing or stopping chemotherapy. They may also suggest other treatment options available. Some key points to consider may include:

  • quality of life
  • the effectiveness of continuing chemotherapy
  • the cost of continuing treatment
  • other health risks or side effects that chemotherapy can cause

A person may want to talk with their family and loved ones about the options available. They may want their input or choose to make the decision independently.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Signs indicating chemotherapy is not working include that the cancer has not shrunk or has spread to other body parts. If this is the situation, a doctor may diagnose a person with advanced or metastatic cancer.

Some signs and symptoms of advanced cancer can include:

  • unintentional weight loss
  • feeling weak, tired, and lacking in energy
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • unexplainable pain

Read more about what happens if chemotherapy does not work.

According to Get Palliative Care, if a person is considering stopping chemotherapy, a doctor may discuss the following:

  • Response Rate: This refers to the likelihood that chemotherapy will shrink the tumor by half. It also refers to tumors that have not grown.
  • Median duration of response: This refers to the length of time the cancer is likely to respond to chemotherapy before the cancer starts growing again.
  • Typical side effects: A doctor can advise about potential side effects a person may experience if they continue with chemotherapy.
  • Alternative treatment: A doctor may recommend other treatment options, such as immunotherapy or radiation therapy.

Learn more about the typical side effects of chemotherapy.

Anyone considering stopping chemotherapy will likely have many questions. An oncologist, or cancer doctor, can help answer many of these questions and offer advice and support. Some questions to ask a doctor can include the following:

  • How can a person expect to feel once they stop treatment?
  • Are there any other treatment options available?
  • Will there be any side effects from stopping chemotherapy?
  • Will any current side effects from the chemotherapy go away after stopping treatment?
  • Would a doctor recommend a person continue with chemotherapy, based on their experience?
  • What are all the options available for ongoing care after stopping chemotherapy?

If a person decides to stop chemotherapy, it is important they achieve the best quality of life possible.

Good quality of life will vary from person to person. It may involve stopping doing things they no longer enjoy, spending time with family and loved ones, and doing things that bring them happiness and fulfillment.

Some people may try another form of treatment or receive other medical care, such as palliative care.

Speaking with a doctor about what to expect after stopping chemotherapy can help in the decision-making process.

If a person decides to stop chemotherapy, medical care options can include:

  • Palliative care: Palliative, or supportive, care aims to support people with chronic or other serious illnesses and their loved ones to improve their quality of life. A person can still receive treatment for their condition with palliative care.
  • Hospice care: Hospice care is for those in the final stages of an incurable illness. It involves making sure the person is comfortable and able to live their last days as fully as possible. A person in a hospice will not receive treatment for their condition but will receive pain relief if necessary.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about stopping chemotherapy.

What is the life expectancy after stopping chemotherapy?

Life expectancy after stopping chemotherapy varies widely between individuals. It will depend on several factors, including the type of cancer, how aggressive it is, where the cancer is in the body, and if a person has any other health conditions.

Can you stop chemo at any time?

A person is free to choose when they stop chemotherapy. A person may wish to take a break or to stop treatment altogether. A person should speak with a doctor to help them understand their options before stopping chemotherapy.

Is it harmful to take a break from chemotherapy?

A doctor may recommend a person takes a break from their chemotherapy treatment for personal reasons such as travel plans or temporary relief from side effects. The impact of taking a break from chemotherapy depends on the type of cancer a person has.

Sometimes sticking to the treatment plan is vital, so a person should speak to a doctor if they want to take a break from chemotherapy.

If chemotherapy has stopped working, a person may decide they no longer want to continue with treatment.

Deciding whether to continue chemotherapy treatment is very individual, and a person should seek support before making a decision.

Speaking with their healthcare team can help a person understand the potential outcomes of stopping treatment. They can answer questions, including how effective continuing treatment might be, what may happen to them if they stop chemotherapy, other treatments available, and what care options are available if they decide to stop treatment.

A person may want to speak to their loved ones about their options or may choose to make the decision independently.