10 Things You Should Know About Palliative Care

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It is a growing field of treatment, but there are still wide misconceptions about palliative care in the cancer community.

Often mistaken as hospice, palliative care is focused on improving quality of life, reducing pain, and providing emotional support during cancer treatment. And it isn’t just for end-of-life, says Daniel Gorman, NP, of Dana-Farber’s Adult Palliative Care team: “Palliative care can happen anywhere in treatment.”

“Palliative care is a relationship,” he explains. “I like to meet people early so we can be there throughout that whole journey.”

Here are 10 things you should know about palliative care.

1. Physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, dieticians, pharmacists, and social workers will work with you to prevent and treat symptoms and side effects – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. As symptoms and side-effects vary person to person, palliative care is specialized for your individual needs and your palliative care team will work together with your oncologists.

Patient Carla Breen with palliative care physician John Halporn, MD.

Patient Carla Breen with palliative care physician John Halporn, MD.

2. Your team will work with you to customize a treatment plan based on your specific needs, while considering your personal cultural background, family dynamics, and support systems.

3. Palliative care does not replace your cancer treatment, but runs concurrently with it.

4. Palliative care may help with:

  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping

Palliative treatment may include relief through:

  • Medicines
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Integrative therapies
  • Interventional options

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery may be used to remove or shrink tumors that cause pain or other symptoms.

5. Your palliative care team are active listeners. They will help you with emotions you may undergo with cancer treatment, such as depression, anxiety, and fear. Your team can help you find resources for counseling, support groups, family meetings, spirituality, or referrals to mental health professions.

6. Your team will help you understand your treatment options and give you more control of your treatment experience. They will communicate to your primary physicians and make recommendations to best manage your symptomatic pain.

7. Understanding procedures or formalities in the health care system can be difficult – your team might assist in identifying proper resources or work with social workers to help you go through:

  • Financial counseling
  • Understanding medical forms or legal advice
  • Identifying transportation or housing agencies
  • Understanding technical or medical language processes

8. Palliative care should not be confused with hospice care or end-of-life treatment. Palliative care can begin at any phase of treatment – and is available for consultation after treatment.

9. Palliative care serves to improve the quality of life for both you and your loved ones. Your care team can help you and your family cope with emotions of worry, fear, or stress and refer you to resources to help with work/life balances for family members.

10. Patients who have their pain symptoms under control and emotional needs met are shown to have an overall better experience with their medical care. And palliative care clinicians’ communication with your oncologists can help prevent future potential symptoms or side effects.

Learn more about palliative care services at Dana-Farber.

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