The World Health Organization defines palliative care as care which focuses on patients with life-threatening diseases. The goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve the suffering of cancer patients and provide the best possible quality of life, regardless of age, cancer stage and treatment plans.
Many people believe that palliative care is only for patients whose cancer cannot be treated or who are close to the end of life. In fact, palliative care is most useful when it is started along with cancer treatment. This way it can help treat common symptoms caused by treatment and ensure the best quality of life. For this reason, palliative care is often referred to as supportive care or symptom control. If the patient's cancer cannot be treated, then the palliative care focus shifts to end-of-life care, which is often provided by a hospice.
Palliative care can include:
- Treatment of pain and other physical symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, constipation, poor sleep, loss of appetite and weight loss
- Treatment of emotional symptoms, such as depression and anxiety
- End of life care
End of Life Care
Every person with terminal cancer has different needs and feelings as his or her last days approach. Palliative care can help the patient and family:
Prepare for the details of death. Certain details, such as a will and funeral arrangements, should be discussed so important decisions can be made. These conversations may be difficult, but the palliative care team at your hospital can help by providing information and resources. The palliative care team can also provide forms for advance directives, which state the patient's wishes about life support and other end-of-life decisions.
Deal with feelings about death. Find ways to feel better spiritually and emotionally. This may include talking, consulting a minister or other religious adviser, looking at photographs, listening to music or writing in a journal. If necessary, a social worker or therapist can help family members cope with their feelings.
Decide where end-of-life care will be provided. If the patient remains at home, the palliative care team can help the caregiver decide whether to begin hospice care. They also can recommend special facilities and other resources that provide hospice care.
Keep the patient comfortable. Treat symptoms such as pain, fatigue, breathing difficulties and other problems.
Hospice care is a type of palliative care for patients whose cancer cannot be treated. To be eligible for hospice services, the doctor must certify that the patient is expected to live six months or less.
Hospice care can be provided at the patient's home, in the hospital, in assisted-care living or a nursing home. Some hospice organizations have facilities where patients can stay for a short time for treatment of uncontrolled symptoms, or to provide a break for the relatives or friends who have been caring for the patient.