Living with cancer can be a painful experience, both physically and emotionally, for the patient, and their family and friends. Palliative care can help ease the pain and improve quality of life. Palliative care can be thought of as comfort care. It is care given to a person living with a life-threatening disease, like cancer. It is given in addition to a patient’s cancer treatment and usually begins from the time a person is diagnosed and lasts throughout the course of the disease.
The aim of palliative care is not to cure a person from the disease, but rather to provide supportive care to relieve the painful symptoms that a patient may experience during treatment. It can also address any psychological and emotional stress. The main goals of palliative care are to:
If needed, palliative care specialists can also help with end-of-life care. A care team can help make the transition from treatment to end-of-life as tolerable as possible. They can assist with handling the physical changes that occur toward the end of life, coping with emotional issues and worries, and helping to reach acceptance and peace. Grief counseling and hospice care are some of the services that a palliative care team can help arrange if the time arrives.
Palliative care is a comprehensive support system. It takes into account major concerns that a person living with cancer may be dealing with during the treatment process. Palliative care focuses on the following concerns:
As cancer progresses, so may symptoms. You may experience weakness, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and confusion, among others. Your care team can help ease symptoms caused by cancer and its treatment. For instance, pain is a common cancer symptom. Since each person responds to pain in a different way, your care team will create a pain management plan that is tailored to your needs. Other therapies that you may be given for symptom relief include physical therapy, nutritional therapy, and deep breathing techniques.
Living with cancer is a difficult time for both you and your loved ones. You may feel depressed, anxious, and scared. A palliative care team can help address these feelings by providing counseling, support groups, and other resources to help you cope as you go through treatment.
Healthcare not only affects the body and mind. There are also financial and legal matters with which to attend. Will insurance pay for your treatment? What if you have to take time off from work for treatment? Questions like these can cause stress for both you and your family. A palliative care team can help you navigate financial and legal issues by providing legal advice, helping you fill out complex medical forms, and locating resource aids for housing and transportation needs.
Facing a life-threatening disease head on may bring about the desire to seek spiritual guidance to help you get through this tough time. Perhaps you may be questioning your faith as you try to understand what is happening. With palliative care, you are not alone as you search for a deeper understanding of life and death. A palliative care team can be there with you each step of the way to explore your spiritual beliefs so that you can find a sense of peace with whatever stage of treatment you are in.
Cancer care centers, hospitals, and long-term care centers are some of the places where you can find a palliative care team. The team is made up of specialists, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, social workers, psychologists, and chaplains. They will work with your primary care doctor and cancer treatment team to provide a well-rounded healthcare experience. Palliative care may also be offered to you at home.
Coping with cancer is a stressful situation that you do not need to face alone. There is help available to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you and your loved ones. Talk with your doctor to learn more about receiving palliative care.
Center to Advance Palliative Care
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association
Cancer: Palliative care. American Academy of Family Physicians' Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/cancer/treatment/palliative-care.html. Updated February 2014. Accessed July 14, 2015.
Palliative care in cancer. National Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/care-choices/palliative-care-fact-sheet. Updated March 16, 2010. Accessed July 14, 2015.
Symptom relief for the dying patient. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/special-subjects/the-dying-patient/symptom-relief-for-the-dying-patient. Updated July 2013. Accessed July 14, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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