What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care (pronounced pa-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness.
Often oncologists treat the symptoms of cancer, like pain, and cancer treatment side effects, like nausea. Sometimes the cancer care team may request the Palliative care team, who are symptom management specialists, work with them to treat symptoms. The palliative care team includes doctors, nurses, and social workers (among others), who provide an extra layer of support and work together with the cancer care team treating the patient’s illness.
If your cancer care team recommends you see the Palliative care team, it means they think the specialists can best help meet your needs, and they want to work together with the palliative care specialists to help you feel as well as possible despite your illness.
Benefits of Palliative Care
Studies have shown that people with chronic illnesses, like cancer, who get palliative care have less severe symptoms. They have better quality of life, less pain, less shortness of breath, less depression, and less nausea. Their medical care tends to better align with their values, goals, and preferences. They and their families also feel more satisfied with the care their loved one received. According to the American Cancer Society, “patients who had hospital-based palliative care visits spent less time in intensive care units and were less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital after they went home.”
Getting Palliative Care Early
Palliative care early in the course of an illness may also help some cancer patients live longer. A landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 compared patients with metastatic lung cancer who got referred to a palliative care specialist soon after diagnosis, while receiving treatment for their lung cancer, with patients who were referred later, when they had developed symptoms that were difficult to control or treatments were no longer working. The patients who got palliative care earlier not only felt better but lived nearly 3 months longer than the patients who did not. Other studies have shown that palliative care interventions, integrated and made available earlier in the course of cancer illnesses, improve outcomes for patients and family caregivers.
If you think you might benefit from seeing a palliative care specialist, you should ask your cancer care team about a referral, or request an appointment by calling 718-765-2600.