An incurable illness is an advanced, progressive or terminal illness that is likely to cause a person of any age to die within days, weeks, months or sometimes more than a year.

Some of the common medical conditions of people requiring care at the end of life include:

  • advanced cancer
  • dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease
  • advanced lung, heart, kidney and liver disease
  • frailty and the presence of multiple diseases or conditions, known as multimorbidity
  • stroke and other neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis.

How will I know if I have an incurable illness?

This is something that the doctor or consultant managing your treatment should explain to you. This will usually follow a series of tests and/or treatment. You may find that your healthcare professional will use other terms such as terminal illness, life-limiting condition or a progressive illness.

If you are unsure about whether you have an incurable illness, speak to your doctor.

What might happen to my care after receiving a diagnosis of an incurable illness?

Dying is a unique personal experience and if you are diagnosed with an incurable illness that will lead to you dying, your care will then change from aiming to cure your illness to ensuring you have the best possible quality of life. This care will be provided for as long as it is needed, which could be days or weeks, months or several years.

The focus will be on:

  • independence
  • symptom control
  • emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing
  • planning for the future.

Who will look after me at the end of life?

There are many different people who may provide care for you at the end of life. These include:

  • your GP, other doctors and palliative care specialists
  • general and specialist nurses in the community, hospitals, hospices and care homes
  • occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, lymphoedema specialists, social workers
  • family members and informal carers
  • pastoral carers, chaplains or other spiritual leaders.

Planning ahead

Advance care planning is a way to plan for future health and personal care so that your values, beliefs and preferences are made known. You can make an advance care statement at any time, but if you have been diagnosed with an incurable illness, you may wish to re-visit your plans or start thinking about them.

Related pages

  • Palliative care and end-of-life care: for more information on the types of care that you could receive following a diagnosis of an incurable illness.
  • Who provides palliative care?: a detailed look at the different care teams and support services for palliative care at home, in a hospice or elsewhere.
  • Planning ahead: a collection of articles that look at planning and decisions for the end of life, including planning care in advance, making a will and Lasting Power of Attorney.

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.