Palliative Care for Cancer Patients

Palliative Care During Treatment

Life with cancer – and cancer treatment – means learning to manage symptoms and side effects. That’s where palliative care comes in. Its goal is to give you relief from pain and discomfort when you have a serious illness. You may also hear it called comfort care, supportive care, or symptom management. The goal is to prevent or treat, as early as possible, the symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment, in addition to any related psychological, social, and spiritual problems. Treatments might include medicine, nutrition therapy, physical therapy, and relaxation techniques like deep breathing. You may also be offered emotional and spiritual counseling. Palliative care can help guide you when it’s time to make decisions about your treatment. It can also help out family and friends who are supporting you during this time.

How does it help?

People who get palliative care have less pain, depression, nausea, and shortness of breath. They spend less time in intensive care and are less likely to have to go back into the hospital.

People who pair it with their cancer treatment have a better quality of life and mood than those who don’t get it at all.

Is it the same as Hospice?

No. Hospice care is support given when treatment can no longer control an illness. It’s offered as you approach the end of life — usually when you have no more than 6 months to live. Some treatments might be the same. But the goal is to comfort, not cure.

If you decide to stop cancer treatment, your team can focus on easing your symptoms and giving you the support you need.

When can I have Palliative Care?

Palliative care works best when you start it as soon as you need it during the treatment process. People who receive palliative care along with treatment for the cancer often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and are more satisfied with treatment. You may have palliative care at any age and for any type and stage of cancer.

Areas where Palliative Care can Help

Palliative treatments vary widely and often include:

  • Medication

  • Nutritional changes

  • Relaxation techniques

  • Emotional and spiritual support

  • Support for children or family caregivers

Understanding Palliative Care

Palliative treatment is designed to relieve symptoms, and improve your quality of life. It can be used at any stage of an illness if there are troubling symptoms, such as pain or sickness. It can also be used to reduce or control the side effects of cancer treatments. In advanced cancer, palliative treatment might help someone to live longer and to live comfortably, even if they cannot be cured. The treatment is not limited to painkillers and anti sickness drugs. Cancer treatments can also reduce or get rid of symptoms. For example, they can help to reduce pain by shrinking a tumour and reducing pressure on nerves or surrounding tissues.

Palliative Care Standards

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes palliative care as services designed to prevent and relieve suffering for patients and families facing life-threatening illness, through early management of pain and other physical, psychosocial, and spiritual problems. There is growing recognition of palliative care as an integral aspect of cancer treatment, with the ability to improve quality of life and prevent unnecessary hospital admissions and the use of health services, especially when instituted early in the course of disease.

Palliative Care Can Address

Palliative care can address symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and fatique
  • Physical limitations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression, anxiety, and grief
  • Family discord and role changes induced by cancer
  • Caregiver needs
  • Spiritual issues such as questioning life’s meaning and anger at living with cancer