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Hospice Care for Cancer: What You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 29, 2020

If you have advanced cancer, you may come a point when treatments don’t help much, if at all. You may start to focus on end-of-life care and on preparing for death. That’s when hospice can come in.

Hospice is a 24/7 type of care for people in the terminal stage of their diseases. Hospice service is family-centered, so you and your loved ones can make decisions together.

When to Start Hospice

End-of-life care usually begins when your doctor thinks you may have less than 6 months to live. The goal is not to treat or cure your cancer, but to help you make the most of your final months and weeks.

If your condition improves, you can leave hospice and go back to active cancer treatments. If you survive past 6 months, your doctor can renew your hospice care for as long as needed.

It may be time to consider hospice care if one of more of these are true. You:

  • Are in advanced stage of your cancer
  • Have had multiple trips to the hospital
  • Wish to stop treatment because it’s not working, or because your side effects are too great
  • Have lost a lot of weight
  • Would like to spend more time at home instead of at the hospital

How Hospice Can Help

Your hospice care team may include your doctor, a hospice nurse, social worker, home health aide, volunteers, and others.

Pain management. A big focus of hospice is to keep you as comfortable as possible. You will get pain medication and help with such symptoms as trouble breathing or tiredness.

Family care. A nurse or social worker will keep your family members in the loop about your cancer and the next steps in your end-of-life care. They also can help educate your loved ones about the process of dying and provide emotional and other support.

Spiritual care. Your hospice doctors will work with you based on your specific spiritual and religious beliefs. They may talk to you about what death means to you and any religious ceremonies or rituals you have.

Respite care. If you choose to get hospice at home, your service might include respite care to give your friends and family time away. This means a doctor will take care of you in your house or in a hospice facility for up to 5 days. This gives your caretakers a break so that they can recharge.

Bereavement care. After you die, a clergy member, counselor, or professional volunteer will help your family mourn your loss. This may be done in one-on-one meetings, in support groups, or with phone calls. The team will be available to your loved ones anytime, day or night.

Palliative Care

It’s also called comfort care. Hospice is one type of palliative care. You can get palliative care to avoid or to treat side effects from your cancer. Unlike with hospice, you can receive palliative care at any stage of your disease, and even as you seek treatment to cure your condition.

You can have palliative care along with hospice. The main goal is to make you comfortable in your last stages of life. Your doctor will help you manage any stress or pain so that you can feel better, enjoy your loved ones, and be alert enough to still make important life decisions.

Where to Find Hospice Care

Medicare, most Medicaid, and many private insurance plans will cover end-of-life care if your doctor confirms that you’re expected to live less than 6 months. This authorization can be renewed for 6 months as many times as necessary.

You can opt to get hospice care at home, in a nursing home, hospital, or any inpatient center. You also may mix these options as your needs change.

Your doctor, your hospital’s social worker, or someone else on your cancer care team can refer you to a hospice group. You also can check with your local health department or search online for hospice care centers where you live.

Keep these questions in mind before you pick your hospice provider:

  • Do you like the environment?
  • Is the location convenient for your family and friends?
  • Are your loved ones able to visit at any time?
  • Who will give you your care?
  • What services do they offer (medical, emotional, and/or spiritual care)?
  • Can your family call them at any time?
  • Can your family help with your care?
  • What will it cost?
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “What Is Hospice Care?”

Samaritan: “Cancer & Hospice: What to Expect & When to Call Hospice.”

National Cancer Institute: “Choices for Care When Treatment May Not Be an Option.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Hospice Care.”

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