Palliative Care: A Cloak of Comfort

CURE, Fall 2012, Volume 11, Issue 3

‘‘Palliative” is from the Latin word pallium, which means cloak. When patients receive palliative care, they are cloaked with care and comfort as they receive highly focused pain and symptom management.

A referral to palliative care does not mean an oncologist is giving up on a patient or withholding medical care because it would be useless. Rather, treatments are aimed at relieving the effects of a disease, sometimes instead of trying to cure it, and sometimes in addition.

Palliative care should not be confused with hospice care, which is geared toward meeting the emotional, spiritual, social and financial needs of patients at the end of life but without using active intensive cancer treatments or diagnostic tests.

Palliative care is comprehensive, interdisciplinary treatment with a focus on understanding and meeting an array of needs to maintain quality of life while balancing them with appropriate cancer therapies.

“The idea that palliative care is end-of-life care is old-fashioned and not accurate,” says Michael Fisch, MD, chairman of the department of general oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “But it is pervasive.”

Palliative care is comprehensive, interdisciplinary treatment with a focus on understanding and meeting an array of needs to maintain quality of life while balancing them with appropriate cancer therapies.

And increasingly, palliative care is brought up early in the course of a patient’s illness, often concurrent with medical treatments.

“The earlier we can introduce ourselves, the better we can manage symptoms,” says Karen Baker, RN, a nurse practitioner with the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health. “We want to help people make choices that work for them, to help them keep quality of life and enjoy it.”