Palliative care has long been associated with end-of-life care, and it will always fill that critical need, ensuring that no one suffers needlessly. But in the past decade, palliative care has grown exponentially, expanding into more than a dozen specialties. It now addresses distress of any kind: physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual.
Palliative care does not cure cancer. First-line treatment is always the primary care doctor. Instead, palliative care helps cancer patients improve quality of life and fight all those other battles that come in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.
A team may include pain-management doctors, nurses who know how to handle all those not-so-little miseries like diarrhea, constipation and sleep troubles, and social workers to help you and your family cope with shifts in the home, financial issues as well as personal problems.
Palliative care can begin at any stage. Research shows that palliative care can improve the quality of life and help to feel more satisfied with the treatment received. Impressed with the results, the American Association of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in 2016 began recommending that patients begin palliative care right from the start of cancer treatment. The sooner, the better.
Not all hospitals can afford to offer a full range of services. But whatever the size, a palliative care team can help guide you and your family to a better quality of life throughout the cancer journey.