Types of Treatment

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is care given to enhance the quality of life of patients who have life limiting conditions such as cancer. Palliative care is an approach that addresses the person as a whole and not just their disease. It addresses not just the physical but also the psychological, social and spiritual need of the person. By improving the quality of life of patients, palliative care can bring hope and control of symptoms, and help them live as well and as fully as possible.

The palliative care team is equipped with training and skills in pain control and management of other symptoms that are caused by the disease or its treatment.  They provide holistic care to the patient and family or caregiver focusing on the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual issues. They embrace patients’ values, goals, and wishes when considering their disease management. They help share patients’ plans and wishes with their family and friends. 

What are the issues addressed in Palliative Care?

The palliative care team focus on the holistic needs of the patients and can help with a wide range of issues, for example,

1. Physical needs

The palliative care team could help address symptoms caused by the cancer or side effects of its treatment. The common physical symptoms include pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and insomnia.

2. Emotional needs

The palliative care team provides resources to help patients and families to deal with the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment. Depression, anxiety, and fear are a few of the concerns that can be addressed through palliative care.

3. Spiritual needs

An expert in palliative care can help people explore their beliefs and values so that they can find a sense of peace or reach a point of acceptance that is appropriate for their situation.

4. Caregiver needs

Family members are an important part of cancer care. It is common for caregivers to feel stress, particularly caring for a sick relative and dealing with all the extra responsibilities placed upon them such as work, household duties, and caring for other family members. The palliative care team can help families and friends cope in this challenging situation and give them the support they need.

5. Practical Needs

The palliative care team can assist with financial and legal issues, insurance questions, and employment concerns. Discussing about the patients’ goals of care is also a vital role of palliative care. This includes discussing advance directives and enabling communication about patients’ care among family members, caregivers, and members of the oncology care team.

Who would benefit from palliative care?

Anyone who has an incurable life limiting condition would benefit from palliative care, for example, cancer, kidney failure, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other lung diseases, brain diseases such as stroke, ALS, or Parkinson’s, neurological conditions such as Multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Patients could assess palliative care regardless of their age, culture, background or beliefs.

Who Gives Palliative Care?

Often, palliative care specialists work as part of a multidisciplinary team that may include doctors and nurses who have received special training or qualification in palliative care, dieticians, pharmacists, religious organisation care givers, psychologists, speech and language therapists, social workers and volunteers. The palliative care team works in conjunction with patients’ primary doctors to manage their care and maintain the best possible quality of life for them.

Palliative Care is Not Just for those Who are Dying

Many still believe that palliative care is only for people who are terminally ill and when there is no further treatment available for their conditions. But in truth, palliative care can be given to any patient at any stage of their disease trajectory. Receiving palliative care does not mean that patients are discontinuing any active treatment or given up hope. Patients could receive palliative care alongside active treatment. 

In patients with cancer, at any point throughout their cancer journey, palliative care could address pain or any other symptoms that are caused by the cancer or side effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It also helps support patients and their family through their treatment and help them to have a better understanding of their condition and treatment.     

A recent research has shown that in metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, early integration of palliative care alongside oncology treatment led to significant improvements in both quality of life and mood of patients.

Temel J.S. (2010) Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine. 363:733-742.

Model of Palliative Care