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Ovarian Cancer: How Palliative Care Can Help

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 30, 2021

Ovarian cancer is very treatable when you catch it at an early stage. But because this cancer often doesn't show symptoms early on, most people don’t get a diagnosis until they're already at a late stage.

Ovarian cancer and the treatment for it impact every part of your life, from your relationships to your job and self-image. Living with this condition can be very stressful. While you're undergoing treatments to slow your cancer, it's also important to manage side effects and care for your emotional health. That's where palliative care can help.

Palliative care is a special type of care designed to relieve the symptoms and stress of living with ovarian cancer -- or any type of cancer. It doesn't take the place of cancer treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy. Instead, it works alongside your cancer treatment to help you feel better.

Studies show that people with ovarian cancer who start palliative care early in their treatment have a better quality of life. They may even live longer than they would have without this care. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor about palliative care as soon as you learn that you have ovarian cancer.

Is Palliative Care End-of-Life Care?

Palliative care isn't the same as end-of-life or hospice care. Hospice starts when treatments no longer slow your cancer. When you start hospice, your cancer treatments stop. At that point, the focus shifts to keeping you comfortable.

Palliative care is helpful at any stage of the cancer treatment process, starting from the moment you get the diagnosis.

How Can Palliative Care Help?

Palliative care can help with both the physical symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment. It also helps ease the emotional stress of living with cancer.

A typical palliative care program includes these treatments to help with symptoms and side effects:

Palliative care also includes additional support, such as:

  • Advice on how to choose the right treatment path
  • Dietary suggestions to help you gain weight or eat more nutrients
  • Counseling to help you deal with the anxiety and stress of your cancer and its treatments
  • Spiritual or emotional support
  • Meditation, massage, and other techniques to relax your body and calm your mind
  • Advice on how to communicate better with your family and friends

Palliative care helps not only people who have ovarian cancer, but it also helps their loved ones. Caregiving can be very stressful. The palliative care team can teach caregivers how to cope with their stress and manage the responsibilities of caring for someone with cancer.

Where to Find It

You can receive palliative care at a hospital, an outpatient clinic, or at home. The hospital that treats your cancer may have its own palliative care program. If not, ask your doctor or another member of your care team to refer you to a palliative care specialist.

Many private health insurance plans, as well as Medicare Part B and Medicaid, cover at least some of the costs involved. Palliative care may be part of your plan's chronic or long-term care coverage. Call your health insurance provider before you start treatment. Find out what they will cover and how much (if anything) you'll have to pay.

Who Provides Palliative Care?

Delivering palliative care involves a whole group of specialists. You care team may include a:

  • Palliative care doctor
  • Nurse
  • Social worker
  • Patient navigator
  • Dietitian
  • Mental health care provider
  • Spiritual counselor

Your cancer treatment team or patient navigator can be a good resource for information on palliative care. See them for any questions you have about this type of care, how to find it, and how to pay for it.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "How and Where is Palliative Care Provided and How Is It Paid For?" "Survival Rates for Ovarian Cancer," "Treatment of Invasive Epithelial Ovarian Cancers, by Stage."

Frontiers in Oncology: "Early Integration of Palliative Care in the Care of Women with Advanced Epithelial Ovarian Cancer: The Time is Now."

Get Palliative Care: "Ovarian Cancer and Palliative Care," "What is Palliative Care?"

Gynecologic Oncology: "Comprehensive Care in Gynecologic Oncology: The Importance of Palliative Care."

Journal of the Advanced Practitioner in Oncology: "The Case for Early Palliative Care in the Treatment of Ovarian Cancer."

Mayo Clinic: "Palliative Care."

Medscape: "Ovarian Cancer Treatment & Management: Palliative Care."

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