What is palliative care?
Palliative care is care that is provided to improve the quality of life for patients who have a serious illness, such as cancer. It not only provides care to patients, but also to their families. It is a holistic approach to address symptom assessment and management that may include pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and loss of appetite. Palliative care works to facilitate communication among patient, families, and providers while assisting with decision-making and establishing goals of care. In addition, it aims to relieve stress and worry by addressing the emotional, spiritual, and practical needs of both patient and family.
Who can receive it?
Essentially, any patient with cancer can receive palliative care. Palliative care should begin at diagnosis and continue through treatment, after treatment, and end of life.
Can I still receive cancer treatment?
Palliative care does not replace your cancer treatment. You may continue to follow with your regular physician and healthcare team while receiving palliative care. However, if there comes a time when further treatment is not warranted, then palliative care becomes the focus of care to alleviate any symptoms and emotional distress from cancer.
What issues are addressed?
Physical. Common symptoms that you may experience are pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, constipation, shortness of breath, and insomnia. These symptoms may be relieved with medications, physical therapy, deep breathing techniques, and nutrition therapy. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery may also relieve pain due to tumor.
Emotional. Patients and families can experience a multitude of emotions that may develop with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Some emotional changes that you or your family members may experience are fear, anger, depression, grief, anxiety, disbelief, and relief. The palliative care team can provide counseling, hold family meetings, and refer to support groups or mental health professionals.
Practical. Many questions and concerns regarding financial and legal issues arise from cancer patients. The palliative care team can assist with coordination of care by directing families to appropriate resources for financial counseling or identifying local resources. Advanced Care Planning is a very important aspect of your care since it allows you to identify your values and quality of life with those closest to you. It allows you to state your wishes and values and decide who in your life you wish to speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself.
Spiritual. With a cancer diagnosis, some patients grow stronger in their faith, while others begin to question their faith. The palliative care team can assist with helping you explore your beliefs and values so that you are able to have a sense of peace with your situation.
Where can I receive palliative care?
Your oncologist will provide much, and sometimes all, of your palliative care in the normal course of your treatment and disease management. However, if specialized palliative care is indicated or desired, we can refer you to an outside palliative care provider.
Will insurance cover palliative care?
Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers typically cover palliative care services.
What other resources are available?
Cancer is not a solo experience. If you or a loved one has cancer, there are places in our community to turn to for additional help. No one understands what you're going through better than cancer survivors and the care givers who help patients every day. Consider a support group or other organized support program to answer questions and concerns you might have. More information can be found in our Patient Support Groups.