"Palliative care" means care that makes you feel better but doesn’t treat your disease. It's a term often linked to late-stage illness and hospice care. And while it can ease the way for people in the later stages of cancer, it’s something you should think about no matter what your diagnosis is.
The goal is to help you feel better and stay active while you’re getting treatment. Your doctor and other health care professionals will work as a team to treat your cancer, pain, nausea, fatigue, breathing problems, or stress.
Since Kathleen Huggins was diagnosed with lung cancer last November, doctors have been working hard to try to cure her. Surgeons removed part of her lung, and soon she'll begin chemotherapy.
But the 56-year-old New York City resident also benefits from a new type of medical specialty called palliative care. It has its own distinct mission: to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for people with serious illnesses.
For example, Huggins had a large, painful surgical incision in her torso...
“Some people try to keep a stiff upper lip and not admit that they need help. Or they may panic when they find out they have cancer,” says Albert A. Rizzo, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, DE. But palliative care can reduce your symptoms so you feel as good as you can and have as high a quality of life as possible.”
For people with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), palliative care may include:
Drugs or supplements to ease nausea, pain, or fatigue
Oxygen therapy to help with shortness of breath
Counseling to lower stress or anxiety
Nutrition advice to keep your weight and energy levels high
Give Your Immune System a Break
This type of care isn’t designed to fight the disease. But often it helps your cancer treatments do a better job.
Why? Because your immune system isn’t working as hard to fight pain, stress, or nausea, says Patricia Thompson, MD, medical director of thoracic oncology at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Atlanta.
She believes lung cancer patients should start palliative care with their first visit to a cancer doctor. “When I first talk to a patient who is newly diagnosed with lung cancer, you can see that they feel like they are in the twilight zone. Their head is spinning,” she says.
Your oncologist will go over your symptoms and examine you to see what kind of palliative care is right for you, Thompson says. The care should be tailored to your needs. Your doctor can adjust it as they change.