Wondering if stage 4 cancer is always terminal? The truth is, while it can be, it’s not always the case. There is hope and potential for survival even in the face of stage 4 cancer.

You might be asking yourself, “Can I survive stage 4 cancer?” The answer lies in the specific type of cancer you’re dealing with. Different types have different treatment options, life expectancies, and survival rates. It’s crucial to seek urgent medical attention and consult with doctors to explore the best treatment options available for your specific case.

In this comprehensive article, we delve into the common types of Stage 4 cancer and shed light on their respective treatment options, life expectancies, and average survival rates. Moreover, we provide invaluable information on the various support systems and resources available to you, including financial assistance options.

Are you facing a cancer diagnosis and also have a current life insurance policy? If so, there’s a possibility you could qualify for a viatical settlement, a process where you sell your life insurance policy for a cash payment. If immediate financial support is a priority for you, discover more about this opportunity and see if you qualify by visiting us here. Remember, you don’t have to face this alone—we’re here to help you every step of the way.

What is Stage 4 Cancer?

Blog feature image with a woman with a turban sitting and leaning at a table and a caption that says stage 4 cancer

Stage 4 cancer, also known as metastatic cancer, is the most advanced stage of cancer. At this stage, the cancer cells have spread from their primary site to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. The development of secondary tumors in distant organs characterizes Stage 4 cancer.

Is Stage 4 cancer the worst? Undoubtedly, it is the most severe stage one can face.

But what exactly does Stage Four cancer signify? When cancer reaches Stage 4, it indicates an advanced and progressed state. At this stage, the cancer has spread from its original site to other areas or organs of the body. As the most advanced form of the illness, Stage 4 cancer generally carries a discouraging prognosis.

You may wonder, “How bad is stage 4 cancer?” The truth is, Stage 4 cancer can often be a devastating diagnosis. It has the potential to be terminal. However, it’s important to note that it is not always the end. Even in terminal cases, patients can surpass expectations and live longer than anticipated. There is room for hope and possibilities beyond the prognosis.

While Stage 4 cancer poses significant challenges, it’s essential to remain resilient and explore all available treatment options. Remember, every individual’s journey is unique, and medical advancements continue to provide new avenues for fighting this battle. Stay informed, seek support, and maintain a positive mindset. Together, we can face the challenges of Stage 4 cancer head-on.

Metastatic Cancer

Metastatic cancer is another common name for Stage 4 cancer. More specifically, ‘metastatic’ refers to the process of ‘metastasis,’ by which cancer spreads from its primary site to a distant secondary area of the body.

Solid Tumors vs. Liquid

Cancer can occur in one of two different forms: solid tumors or liquid cancers.

When cancer forms a solid mass or tumor, it is called a ‘solid tumor’ cancer. In this type of cancer, tumorous masses form in a specific bodily organ, such as the breasts, lungs, or ovaries—for example. Solid tumors can occur anywhere in the body.

On the other hand, ‘liquid cancers,’ or ‘liquid tumors,’ refer to those that specifically affect the blood, bone marrow, or lymph nodes of the body only. Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma are examples of liquid cancers.

Causes And Risk Factors

The development of Stage 4 cancer can be attributed to several causes and risk factors. These include:

  • Late-stage diagnosis: Delayed detection of cancer increases the likelihood of it progressing to Stage 4.
  • Cancer recurrence: Cancer that has returned after initial treatment can reach an advanced stage.
  • Metastasis: Cancer cells can spread from the primary site to other organs, leading to Stage 4 cancer.
  • Genetic mutations: Certain genetic abnormalities can increase the risk of developing advanced-stage cancer.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke or asbestos, can contribute to cancer progression.
  • Age: Advanced age is associated with a higher risk of developing Stage 4 cancer.

Stage 4 Cancer Symptoms And Signs

Stage 4 cancer may present a variety of symptoms, depending on the type and location of the cancer. Some common signs include:

  • Persistent fatigue and weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic pain or discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Persistent cough or hoarseness
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Skin abnormalities, such as jaundice or new moles

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so a proper medical evaluation is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

The Cancer Stages

Like many other life-threatening illnesses, cancer is diagnosed in stages. Generally, stages are calculated on a scale from 0-4 and have to do with factors including the tumor size, how far it has spread, and where in the body it is located. However, there are several other common ways cancer stages are diagnosed.

TNM Staging System

One of the most common cancer staging systems is the TNM system. The acronym “T” stands for “tumor” and describes the features of the primary tumor. “N” is for “nodes” and explains whether or not cancer has spread into the patient’s lymph nodes. Finally, “M” is for “metastasized” and indicates whether or not cancer has spread to other body areas.

Binet And Rai Systems

Binet and Rai are the staging systems that specifically diagnose Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a non-tumorous cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Both systems use the patient’s white blood cell count to determine how far their cancer may have spread and what areas of the body are being affected.

Cancer Grading

Cancer grading is the process of describing the appearance of cancer cells under a microscope. The grading system has three categories. Grade 1 is assigned to cancer cells that look more normal and are growing at a slower pace. Grade 2 indicates that the cancer cells look different from normal cells and grow faster. Grade 3 indicates that the cancer cells look even more abnormal and may spread or grow more aggressively than Grade 2.

Testing & Biopsy

Testing and biopsy are some of the more general ways of determining the potential stage of cancer. Testing can provide information about the cancer’s location in the body and can include any of the following tests: CT scans, X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, and PET scans. A biopsy is a process whereby the doctor will remove a small portion of an identified tumor and have it tested in a lab to determine whether or not it’s cancerous.

Stage 4 Cancer Treatment Options

Female cancer patient listening to doctor talk about if stage 4 cancer is curable

How severe is stage 4 cancer? When it comes to treating Stage 4 cancer, there are a few different commonly used methods, which we will examine below.

Please remember that whether or not an individual is a candidate for the following treatment options depends upon certain variables— so it is always best to consult your doctor directly to find out which stage 4 cancer treatments are most appropriate for you.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that cancer patients can participate. The purpose of a clinical trial is to utilize a specific treatment approach in combination with new approaches, such as a new type of medication or a new combination of medications. Sometimes at the research institutes, clinical trials even attempt to use an already established treatment method in a new way, hoping to achieve better results over time.

Clinical trials can allow patients access to new and innovative cancer treatments that may be successful.

Systemic & Common Drug Treatments (Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy)

Chemotherapy is how anti-cancer drugs are used as a cancer treatment method. Because chemotherapy is aimed at destroying cancer cells, it has effectively cured cancer in some people. While chemotherapy may not be completely effective in curing Stage four cancer, it does offer the benefit of easing and relieving some of its symptoms of it—which is certainly a step in the right direction.

Additionally, immunotherapy is the process by which a patient’s immune system is stimulated to encourage the body to fight off cancer. One common form of immunotherapy treatment utilizes various drugs, known as ‘checkpoint inhibitors,’ to encourage the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells independently. There are many forms of immunotherapy, so it’s best to consult your doctor to learn more.


Surgery is commonly used to treat cancer caused by solid tumors, specifically those in one area. Cancer is considered Stage 4 when it has spread to more than one body area. For this reason, using surgery to treat Stage 4 cancer is uncommon—but it does happen occasionally.

Surgery is often deemed appropriate for Stage 4 cancer only if the original cancerous tumor is not large and/or the tumors that have spread are small in size and number. When this is the case, surgery may be possible.


Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses radiation technology to shrink cancerous tumors. High radiation levels can kill off cancer cells by slowing their growth and effectively damaging them over time. Radiation therapy has been shown to cure cancer effectively in some, but it is not always 100 percent effective for everyone. However, even when radiation does not cure one’s cancer, it still has the potential to reduce its size.

Many cancer patients also use alternative & holistic cancer treatment and regular cancer treatments.

Types of Stage 4 Cancers And Their Treatment Practices

Stage 4 Lung Cancer And Treatments

Advanced lung cancer is diagnosed when it is determined that cancer has spread— either from one lung to the second lung or from the lungs to another part of the body. The most common organs metastatic lung cancer spreads to are the liver, brain, bones, or adrenal glands.

Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer patients are usually inoperable, so the most common treatment methods tend to be targeted drug therapies, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are most commonly used for stage 4 small cell lung cancer to treat symptoms while shrinking cancer.

Learn about how to get financial help for lung cancer

Stage 4 Prostate Cancer And Treatments

A stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis means that cancer has spread beyond the prostate, usually to the adrenal glands, bones, lungs, or liver.

Treatment for stage iv prostate cancer, also known as metastatic prostate cancer, can involve removing the prostate and providing hormone therapy. Other prostate cancer treatments include Hormone-blocking therapy which reduces the amount of testosterone in the body to help slow or shrink the growth of cancer. This hormone therapy is sometimes used alongside testicle removal on a case-by-case basis. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also occasionally used.

For those with advanced prostate cancer, check out the Financial Help for Prostate Cancer Patients available.

Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer And Treatments

Stage 4 colorectal cancer indicates that cancer has spread from the colon and/or rectal area to a more distant body area— usually the lungs, liver, or bones.

Treating stage 4 colorectal cancer can include surgery to remove the original tumor and any small tumors that may have spread. A partial Colectomy or full Ostomy procedure may also be necessary, and lymph node removal is possible. Chemotherapy and targeted drug therapies are the main treatment methods for tumors that are too large and/or have spread to too many different areas.

Financial Help for Colon and Colorectal Cancer Patients

Stage 4 Breast Cancer And Treatments

Is Stage 4 breast cancer terminal? Stage 4 breast cancer – also known as metastatic breast cancer, is diagnosed when it is realized that cancer has spread beyond the breast and its immediate surrounding areas to other, distant areas of the body. The most common organs advanced breast cancer cells spread to are the lungs, liver, brain, or bones.

When it comes to stage 4 breast cancer treatment, systemic drug therapies are the main method. These can include any combination of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted drug therapy. In some situations, radiation and/or surgery may also be possible.

Financial Help for Breast Cancer Patients

Stage 4 Cancer Survival Rate And Life Expectancy

Survival Rates

How long can someone live with Stage 4 cancer? Generally, survival rates for advanced cancer depend upon a few different variables, including the type of cancer, its grade, and the patient’s age and overall health.

Survival Rate List

Stage 4 terminal cancer life expectancy is complicated. Below, you’ll see our convenient Survival Rate Chart, which offers further insight into the specifics when it comes to the survival rates of different cancer types

Stage 4 Cancer Average 5-Year Survival Rate According to the American Cancer Society:

  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: 7%
  • Small-Cell Lung Cancer: 3%
  • Prostate Cancer: 30%
  • Colorectal: 14%
  • Breast Cancer: 28%

Other usefull Stage 4 Cancer statistics shared by the National Cancer Institute states:

  • it is estimated that there are 18.1 million cancer survivors in the United States. This represents approximately 5.4% of the population.
  • The number of cancer survivors is projected to increase by 24.4%, to 22.5 million, by 2032
  • The number of cancer survivors is projected to grow to 26.0 million by 2040
  • Over the next decade, the number of people who have lived 5 or more years after their cancer diagnosis is projected to increase approximately 30%, to 16.3 million.

Stage 4 Patients Can Live For Years

Can you live with stage 4 cancer? The 5-year survival rates listed in the chart above are NOT intended to scare you but rather to inform you of the average, approximate rates for each type of cancer we have explored in this article. The fact is, Stage 4 cancer patients can live for YEARS, and these statistics are just that, statistics. They do not define your experience or mean you cannot beat cancer and thrive!

Finding Support

Navigating a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis can be scary. How long does stage 4 cancer last? There is no specific answer to this question but the good news is that help is always available, and you are not alone!


Many cancer patients benefit from sharing their emotional experiences with a counselor. A counselor can help patients learn effective ways of managing feelings of depression and anxiety and can offer healthy coping methods.

Many different forms of counseling are available with various types of professionals, including therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, medical oncology workers, counselors, etc—meaning your options are certainly not limited when it comes to finding the right professional to serve you best.

Cancer Care Team / Pain Clinics

If you’re looking for support during this time, working with your oncologist and cancer care team can be helpful. Many teams include a ‘patient navigator’ assigned to guide you through the different stages of your diagnosis and connect you to helpful resources that can assist you.

Pain clinics, or palliative care, are another option. Your palliative care team supports you by treating and preventing the painful and uncomfortable side effects that can result from certain forms of cancer treatment.

Support Groups

Cancer support groups offer a safe space for people battling cancer to unite and share their emotions and experiences living with cancer. For many, these support groups serve as a community and social support system and can be a wonderful resource for those coming to terms with their cancer diagnosis.

Financial Assistance

We know that affording Stage 4 cancer treatment can be a stressful and emotional experience, which is why, here at American Life Fund, we work to help cancer patients financially. If you have been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, have a current life insurance policy, and need immediate cash to pay for treatment—you may be eligible for a viatical settlement. Learn more and see if you qualify by visiting us here.

Also, take a look at some of our articles on how to find financial assistance and free money for cancer patients:

How Many Stages of Cancer Are There?

There are four primary stages of cancer, numbered from stage 1 to stage 4, with subcategories within each stage. Here’s a brief overview of each stage:

Stage 1 Cancer:

Stage 1 is the earliest cancer stage and is often called localized cancer. At this stage, the tumor is small and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other body areas. Treatment options for stage 1 cancer typically have a high success rate, as the cancer is usually more manageable and responsive to therapy.

Stage 2 Cancer:

In stage 2, the cancer has grown larger but has not yet spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues. This stage is considered an intermediate stage and can be further divided into stages 2A and 2B, depending on the tumor size and other factors. Treatment for stage 2 cancer usually involves surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, and the prognosis is generally good, although not as favorable as stage 1 cancer.

Stage 3 Cancer:

Stage 3 cancer is more advanced, with the tumor growing and possibly spreading to nearby lymph nodes. This stage can also be divided into stages 3A, 3B, and 3C, depending on the extent of cancer involvement. Treatment for stage 3 cancer often includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The prognosis varies depending on the type of cancer and the extent of its spread.

Stage 4 Cancer:

Stage 4 is the most advanced cancer stage, also known as metastatic cancer. The cancer has spread to distant body parts, such as other organs, bones, or the brain. Stage 4 cancer is often considered terminal because it is challenging to treat and cure. However, advancements in cancer treatments and therapies can sometimes help manage the disease, extend life expectancy, and improve the quality of life for patients with stage 4 cancer.

Emotional Impact on Patients And Families

A Stage 4 cancer diagnosis can be emotionally overwhelming for patients and their families. Dealing with the challenges of advanced cancer requires not only physical strength but also emotional support. It is essential to have open communication, seek counseling or therapy, and connect with support networks to navigate the emotional impact of the disease.

Importance of Early Detection And Prevention

While Stage 4 cancer poses significant challenges, early detection and prevention play crucial roles in reducing the risk of reaching an advanced stage. Regular screenings, awareness of potential risk factors, and adopting a healthy lifestyle can contribute to detecting cancer at earlier stages when treatment options are more effective.

Support Resources And Organizations

Various organizations and support resources are available to assist individuals and families affected by Stage 4 cancer. These include:

  • American Cancer Society (ACS)
  • Cancer Support Community
  • National Cancer Institute (NCI)
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Organizations
  • Cancer-specific support groups and foundations

These organizations provide valuable information, emotional support, educational resources, and practical assistance to those in need.

Conclusion: Is Stage 4 Cancer Terminal?

Receiving a stage 4 cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and devastating. It’s important to remember that every patient’s experience with cancer is unique, and there is always hope, regardless of the statistics. Patients must have access to the right treatment options, support systems, and resources to help them navigate this difficult journey.

Can a person survive stage 4 cancer? Absolutely! While the road ahead may be tough, cancer patients are not alone. There are compassionate healthcare professionals, dedicated cancer care teams, and supportive communities that can provide comfort and guidance throughout the process. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s essential to remember that seeking emotional support is just as important as seeking medical treatment.

Further Reading: Is Stage 4 Cancer Terminal?

About the Author: Lacey

Lacey is a compassionate and dedicated marketing director at American Life Fund, a leading life and viatical settlement company. Lacey has made it her mission to help patients with life-threatening illnesses and their families get the financial support they need during difficult times.

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