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Palliative Care for Cancer

What Is Palliative Care?

image Living with cancer can be a painful experience, both physically and emotionally, for the patient, family, and friends. Palliative care can help ease the pain. Palliative care can be thought of as comfort care. It is care given to a person living with a life-threatening disease, like cancer. It is given in addition to a patient’s cancer treatment and usually begins from the time a person is diagnosed and lasts throughout the course of the disease.

The aim of palliative care is not to cure a person from the disease, but rather to provide supportive care to relieve the painful symptoms that a patient may experience during treatment. It can also address any psychological and emotional stress. The main goals of palliative care are to:

  • Ease pain and other symptoms
  • Improve emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being
  • Offer support to family and friends of the person with cancer

If needed, palliative care specialists can also help with end-of-life care. A care team can help make the transition from treatment to end-of-life as tolerable as possible. They can assist with handling the physical changes that occur toward the end of life, coping with emotional issues and worries, and helping to reach acceptance and peace. Grief counseling and hospice care are some of the services that a palliative care team can help arrange if the time arrives.

The Parts of Palliative Care

Palliative care is a comprehensive support system. It takes into account major concerns that a person living with cancer may be dealing with during the treatment process. Palliative care focuses on the following concerns:

Physical

As cancer progresses, so may symptoms. You may experience weakness, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and confusion, among others. Your care team can help ease symptoms caused by cancer and its treatment. For instance, pain is a common cancer symptom. Since each person responds to pain in a different way, your care team will create a pain management plan that is tailored to your needs. Other therapies that you may be given for symptom relief include physical therapy, nutritional therapy, and deep breathing techniques.

Emotional

Living with cancer is a difficult time for both you and your loved ones. You may feel depressed, anxious, and scared. A palliative care team can help address these feelings by providing counseling, support groups, and other resources to help you cope as you go through treatment.

Practical

Healthcare not only affects the body and mind. There are also financial and legal matters with which to attend. Will insurance pay for your treatment? What if you have to take time off from work for treatment? Questions like these can cause stress for both you and your family. A palliative care team can help you navigate financial and legal issues by providing legal advice, helping you fill out complex medical forms, and locating resource aids for housing and transportation needs.

Spiritual

Facing a life-threatening disease head on may bring about the desire to seek spiritual guidance to help you get through this tough time. Perhaps you may be questioning your faith as you try to understand what is happening. With palliative care, you are not alone as you search for a deeper understanding of life and death. A palliative care team can be there with you each step of the way to explore your spiritual beliefs so that you can find a sense of peace with whatever stage of treatment you are in.

Where Do I Get Palliative Care?

Cancer care centers, hospitals, and long-term care centers are some of the places where you can find a palliative care team. The team is made up of specialists, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, social workers, psychologists, and chaplains. They will work with your primary care doctor and cancer treatment team to provide a well-rounded healthcare experience. Palliative care may also be offered to you at home.

Coping with cancer is a stressful situation that you do not need to face alone. There is help available to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you and your loved ones. Talk with your doctor to learn more about receiving palliative care.

Revision Information

  • Center to Advance Palliative Care

    http://www.getpalliativecare.org

  • National Cancer Institute

    http://www.cancer.gov

  • Canadian Cancer Society

    http://www.cancer.ca

  • Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association

    http://www.chpca.net

  • Cancer: palliative care. American Academy of Family Physicians' FamilyDoctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/cancer/treatment/palliative-care.html. Updated September 2010. Accessed October 17, 2013.

  • Palliative care in cancer. National Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Support/palliative-care. Updated March 16, 2010. Accessed October 17, 2013.

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