Although the terms are often used interchangeably, palliative care and hospice care differ in several important ways for cancer patients – most notably, the stage of treatment at which they are given.
Both types of care focus on relieving patients’ pain and discomfort, whether caused by the cancer itself or the side effects of treatment. The goal of such care is not to cure a disease, but to improve someone’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.
Palliative care can take place at any stage of a patient’s illness, often beginning shortly after diagnosis and continuing through the course of treatment. Dana-Farber offers palliative care programs for adult patients as well as pediatric patients.
Hospice care is given when treatments are no longer effective and a patient is expected to live less than six months.
Palliative and hospice care are delivered by teams of professionals that may include physicians, nurses, social workers, dieticians, physical therapists, mental health counselors, and chaplains. Palliative care teams generally work in unison with clinicians who focus on disease treatment. Often, both types of care extend not only to the patient but to his or her family and caregivers as well.