When you have advanced prostate cancer, you can turn to palliative care to manage your symptoms and get the emotional support you need. It can be a big help at a time when you may be looking for relief from pain or new ways to deal with a swirl of intense feelings.
Unlike hospice care, which is only given at the end of life, you can get palliative care at any stage of a serious illness, starting at your diagnosis. It can continue for weeks or months, including while you get treatment.
Any medical professional -- such as a doctor, nurse, dietitian, pharmacist, or therapist -- can provide palliative care, but there are also specialists in the field. Most hospitals have palliative services, and some have centers that you can visit without having to stay overnight. Your primary care doctor may also be involved in the palliative care you get.
Dealing With Side Effects
One of the most important goals of palliative care is easing the physical symptoms of the cancer itself and any side effects from treatment.
Some of the prostate cancer symptoms you can get help with are:
- Trouble peeing or needing to pee often
- Problems with erections or ejaculation
- Loss of sex drive
- Pain in your lower back, hips, and upper thighs
Different pain relief drugs can help, and palliative care specialists are trained to spend time to pick the right medicine for your needs.
One common side effect of treatment, especially radiation and hormone therapy, is fatigue. Your palliative care team may recommend exercise and other lifestyle changes that can give you more energy. They may also suggest drugs, changes in diet, physical therapy, or deep breathing to handle other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, sleeping problems, and lack of appetite.
Sometimes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery are considered "palliative" because they ease pain by shrinking tumors.
The goal of all of these is to make your life more comfortable.
Emotional and Spiritual Needs
Palliative care extends far beyond the physical. Experts can recommend support groups and counselors to help you manage depression, fear, and anxiety. They can also help you open the doors of communication with your partner to talk about sensitive issues like sex.
Chaplains and other palliative care professionals can discuss spiritual or religious issues. They can even help you achieve lifelong goals. Palliative care staffers helped one person with cancer, who regretted not marrying his fiancee, to tie the knot right at his bedside.
If you decide to stop treatment and move into hospice care, a palliative care team can help with that as well.
Practical and Family Support
Your health may not be the only thing on your mind. You may also be worried about having enough money and navigating the insurance maze. You might need legal advice about wills and advanced directives.
Members of your palliative care team can offer assistance directly or can tell you where to get financial and legal help. They can also tackle transportation and housing issues if you have family members visiting from out of town.
Palliative care can also help your family, friends, and caregivers manage their stress.