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How Can Palliative Care Help Cancer Patients?

Doctor discussing palliative care with cancer patient

As a cancer patient, you are not alone, but every patient experiences his or her disease differently. Your age, race, culture, support system and unique personality all play a part in your disease and your feelings of well being. They also play a role in the kinds of palliative care you may want. Palliative care does not cure or treat your cancer. Instead, palliative care relieves physical, emotional and psychosocial symptoms. It can begin when you are diagnosed with cancer and continue through all phases of treatment and follow-up to the end of life.

Coping

Patients and families must find coping mechanisms following a cancer diagnosis and during treatment. Palliative care can address depression, anxiety and fear by employing counseling, support groups, family meetings and the like.

Physical

Pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath and loss of sleep are physical symptoms of cancer. Drugs and holistic approaches such as nutrition or deep breathing address those symptoms, while palliative chemotherapy can shrink a tumor causing pain.

Practical

Woman reading about palliative care

Cancer patients and their families have worries that go beyond illness. There may be financial pressures, legal problems, employment concerns, transportation and housing issues. Just understanding the language and details of medical forms can be daunting. A member of the palliative care team can find community resources, answer questions and make practical suggestions.

Spiritual

Whether your faith is your anchor or it feels like it has abandoned you, spiritual issues come to the fore with a diagnosis of cancer. Even those who had no religious convictions prior to being ill, question things such as, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What happens after we die?” Palliative care addresses your questions in light of your culture and traditions to help you accept what is.

Quality of Life

Palliative care has been proven effective in improving quality of life. When your symptoms are controlled and you feel like there is someone to listen, you feel better and live better. Palliative consults result in lower healthcare costs, because you choose to stay out of the hospital and say no to unnecessary tests and treatment; at some point, more treatment does not equal better care. If/when curative treatments are no longer effective, all of your needs are met with palliative care.

Where is Palliative Care Offered?

Elderly man under palliative care

Palliative care is offered by cancer centers and hospitals, which have palliative specialists or a whole team on staff. Some cancer centers have programs or clinics that address specific palliative issues, such as lymphedema, pain management, sexual functioning or psychosocial issues. If you live at home or in a long term care facility, a hospice team or physician might provide palliative care for you.

Talk to your family and your oncologist about your goals of care and how palliative care might improve your quality of life.

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