Palliative Care’s New Reputation in Cancer Care


People used to think that palliative care and hospice were one in the same. However, now it has a separate category of its own.

I sort of wish they had called palliative care something else when it became a medical specialization years ago, instead of using a title that already had a very clear meaning interpretation behind it — that death was near.

It used to be thought that a patient receiving palliative care was getting comfort care without any goal to cure — and usually that the end of life was near. However, palliative care actually focuses on symptom management, with a special care that pain be controlled.

The focus of palliative care is quality of life for the patient and the caregivers, while at the same time often continuing to treat the patient. Pain control has been an issue for years in the cancer community, with many patients not receiving adequate pain management or even turning it down for fear of becoming addicted. Some may also also turn down adequate pain measures for fear they would mask the reality of the disease.

Palliative care means caring for the patient in a way that all the issues surrounding treatment are taken care of, including pain, anxiety, sleep, constipation and caregiving issues.

For me, it is finally a specialty that focuses on pain relief, an area where I feel that cancer has been left well behind. With palliative care the focus is on comfort, and yes, the patients are usually suffering from life-threatening illnesses, but that doesn’t mean they are not still getting some kind of treatment if they are also getting palliative care.

Palliative care and hospice both seek to provide comfort. But palliative care can be offered sooner in the disease process. In palliative care the patient may continue to receive treatment and be assessed, while with hospice care all curative options have been eliminated and the focus is purely on comfort.

In addition to physical comfort, palliative care supports spiritual and emotional care of the patient and caregivers, as most patients receiving palliative care will move toward end of life issues eventually.

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