What is Palliative Care and Who Can Get It?

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When it comes to cancer treatment, the methods can vary greatly. Whether you are aggressively attacking a fast growing cancer or having surgery or whether the patient has a positive outlook or the cancer looks to be incurable, there are many ways to treat a cancer patient. Beyond chemotherapy and radiation there are ways to treat or relieve the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatments which helps make quality of life much better. This kind of treatment is called palliative care. Palliative care is often seen by many as part of end of life care but when it comes to cancer patients it is more than that. Palliative care is different than hospice care because it can be used during any stage of treatment. Cancer treatment is harsh and can impact every aspect of a person’s health. Palliative care is treatment for mind, body and spirit during and after cancer treatment. Palliative care may sound like a luxury that is not necessarily for everyone but palliative care can be managed for anyone through the use of family, community services and local healthcare facility and hospital services.

Palliative care can be used to relieve symptoms such as pain management, spiritual guidance, mental health assistance, support system for both the patient and patient’s family and friends, assistance with anxiety, assistance with nausea, and much more. Whether there is hope for a cure or end of life is near, palliative care is often not only an immense comfort but a way for cancer patients to focus on themselves and not the illness, regain dignity, and enjoy life in a more full way. Palliative care does not make an attempt to prolong life or shorten life, only to make whatever life there is better and more comfortable. But, in studies palliative care has been shown to prolong life. The New England Journal of Medicine reported research findings that showed palliative care was helpful in lengthening the life of lung cancer patients, “Among patients with metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer, early palliative care led to significant improvements in both quality of life and mood. As compared with patients receiving standard care, patients receiving early palliative care had less aggressive care at the end of life but longer survival.”

So, if you think palliative care is right for you, just how does one go about getting the services that come along with palliative care? It is important to speak to your healthcare team about palliative care and the services available to you. Get Palliative Care describes how palliative care is a team approach to your health and wellbeing, ” Palliative care is a team approach to care. The core team includes doctor, nurse and social work palliative care specialists. Massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, chaplains and others may also be part of the team. The team spends as much time as necessary with you and your family. They become a partner with you, your family and your other doctors. They support you and your family every step of the way, not only by controlling your symptoms, but also by helping you to understand your treatment options and goals.” If you are undergoing cancer treatment and are interested in palliative care speak to your physician or medical team to find out more about palliative care options for you.

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