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Cancer Patients Live Longer With Palliative Care

Study Also Shows Palliative Care Improves Quality of Life for Advanced Lung Cancer Patients
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 18, 2010 -- Offering palliative care, including pain management and counseling services, soon after diagnosis can help people with advanced lung cancer live longer and with a better quality of life, a study shows.

The study is published in the Aug. 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Palliative care involves a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains who help individuals and their families cope with pain and symptoms as well as the emotional and spiritual aspects of their diagnosis.

In the new three-year study, people diagnosed with spreading non-small-cell lung cancer who received palliative care early on, along with cancer treatments, showed marked improvement in their overall quality of life and lived more than two months longer than those who received cancer treatment without palliative services.

People in the palliative care group were 50% less likely to have symptoms of clinical depression, although the rate at which new antidepressant prescriptions were written was similar among both groups. The new study also showed that people who received the palliative support services were less likely to choose aggressive, and often futile, measures to prolong their lives.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of impact that palliative care had on quality of life, which normally decreases over time in these cancer patients, and the magnitude of the impact it had on depression," says Jennifer S. Temel, MD, an oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center in Boston. "The survival benefit was the most surprising thing."

"Cancer care and palliative care are not mutually exclusive. Providing both is not only feasible, but beneficial," she says.

Study participants met with their palliative care team within three weeks of the study's inception, and then at least once a month going forward. Participants who were not in the palliative care group were permitted to access the services at any point.

Temel worked closely with Vicki Jackson, MD, MPH, acting chief of the MGH Palliative Care Service to conduct the study.

Palliative Care May Benefit Other Diseases

The new findings may apply to other serious diseases, Jackson says.

"We don't have data to support it yet, but we hope that palliative care can improve outcomes for a variety of other diseases," she says.

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