Palliative Care During Treatment

Life with cancer -- and cancer treatment -- means learning to manage symptoms and side effects. That’s where palliative care comes in. Its goal is to give you relief from pain and discomfort when you have a serious illness. You may also hear it called comfort care, supportive care, or symptom management.

It focuses on easing symptoms like nausea, pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath. And it helps you manage the stress of cancer by helping you handle the emotional side of the disease.

Treatments might include medicine, nutrition therapy, physical therapy, and relaxation techniques like deep breathing. You may also be offered emotional and spiritual counseling, as well as practical help to manage insurance, legal, or employment issues.

Palliative care can help guide you when it’s time to make decisions about your treatment. It can also help out family and friends who are supporting you during this time.

Who Gives Palliative Care?

Your medical team can offer you parts of supportive care. But often with cancer treatment, you’ll be referred to other people as well. They might include:

  • Pharmacists
  • Physical therapists
  • Registered dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Chaplains

Your palliative care team may talk to your doctor to suggest ways to handle your pain and other symptoms.

When and Where Do You Get Palliative Care?

It's best if the care can start as soon as you’re diagnosed. You can get it through all stages of the disease and treatment.

Depending on what type of support it is, you could get it at your doctor's office, the hospital, a cancer center, another type of facility, or even in your home.

How Does It Help?

People who get palliative care have less pain, depression, nausea, and shortness of breath. They spend less time in intensive care and are less likely to have to go back into the hospital.

People who pair it with their cancer treatment have a better quality of life and mood than those who don't get it at all.

Who Pays the Tab?

Health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid usually pay for supportive care, depending on the situation. Ask your health care team or your hospital's social worker if you have questions.

Is It the Same as Hospice?

No. Hospice care is support given when treatment can no longer control an illness. It’s offered as you approach the end of life -- usually when you have no more than 6 months to live. Some treatments might be the same. But the goal is to comfort, not cure.

If you decide to stop cancer treatment, your team can focus on easing your symptoms and giving you the support you need.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on January 23, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Caring for the Symptoms of Cancer and its Treatment."

News release, National Cancer Institute.

American Cancer Society: “A Guide to Supportive or Palliative Care," "Palliative or Supportive Care."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Palliative Care: FAQs."

Journal of Clinical Oncology: "Randomized trial of early integrated palliative and oncology care."

The New England Journal of Medicine: "Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer."

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