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Palliative Care May Improve Survival, Quality of Life in Advanced Cancer


Recent research found that outpatient palliative care improved survival and quality of life in patients with advanced cancer.

Palliative care may boost survival in patients with advanced cancer, according to recent research conducted at Tulane University.

“If people got palliative care, they had better quality of life. That’s great, because that’s what palliative care is made for,” study author Michael Hoerger, Ph.D., MSCR, assistant professor of psychology, psychiatry and oncology at Tulane University, said in an interview with CURE.

The researchers examined 2,307 patient records from nine different studies, and then compared survival and quality of life outcomes between those who were given outpatient specialty palliative care and those who were not. All patients involved had advanced cancer, and the majority of them had either lung cancer or a gastrointestinal cancer.

The palliative care group showed survival advantages at six, nine, 15 and 18 months, with a 14 percent absolute increase in one-year survival (56 percent versus 42 percent in the palliative care versus non-palliative groups, respectively). Average survival for patients given palliative care was more than 4.5 months longer.

“In general, patients who received palliative care lived a little longer. This doesn’t mean palliative care cures people of their cancer, it just means that they might live a little bit longer or for a longer time frame.”

The reasons for palliative care extending life are still unknown. Some believe that palliative care may help patients decide to stop treatments such as chemotherapy, which may be harmful toward the end of life. Another school of thought explains that palliative care helps patients have a more positive outlook on their diagnosis, explained Hoerger.

Palliative care is sometimes confused with hospice, or end-of-life care. Palliative care can be prescribed at any time — during any prognosis – of treatment or the survivorship process, and is focused on improving comfort and quality of life. A typical palliative care session might include interventions that can help patients cope with symptoms and side effects, as well as decisions regarding treatment options and planning. If a patient is near the end of life, they might also discuss this, but only if they want to.

“Palliative care is not going to push people to talk about those tough end-of-life issues if the patient does not want to do that,” Hoerger said. “Somebody could have some really bad symptoms or side effects, and that could lead them to palliative care, too.”

This was not the first study to outline the benefit of palliative care for patients with advanced cancer. Other research found that it may reduce the risk of suicide in veterans with stage 3b or 4 lung cancer.

Moving forward, Hoerger hopes that his findings will expand the use of palliative care in health systems across the country, while also enlightening patients and their families to the benefits that it could provide.

“What I hope this research will do is help decision-makers to realize that they need to grow their palliative care programs,” Hoerger said. “This is also a tremendous opportunity for patients and families to know what palliative care is and speak up and ask for it.”

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