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What You Should Know About Palliative Care

senior man receives in-home medical care from his doctor as his wife watches

Everyone with a serious illness such as cancer can benefit from palliative care as part of their treatment plan. Palliative care includes supportive care managed by your care team, such as relief from symptoms, pain, and stress. In cancer care, it’s meant to improve quality of life for patients and their families.

Palliative care may include:

  • Medicines to control pain, nausea, and other symptoms
  • Help with emotional and spiritual needs
  • Support to help you better understand your disease and diagnosis
  • Assistance with making medical decisions
  • Coordination with your other doctors
  • Assurance that all your care needs – physical, emotional, spiritual, and social – are being addressed

Sometimes people confuse palliative care with hospice care. Both focus on improving the person’s quality of life while they are living. But palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage of a serious illness. A person can get it throughout the illness, including while they are getting active treatment for cancer or other serious illnesses. Hospice care, on the other hand, is given near the end of life, usually when treatment for an illness has stopped working.

You can get palliative care from your regular health care team, or from palliative care specialists. If you have a need that’s not being met, talk to your doctor, nurse, or health care team about incorporating palliative care into your treatment.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Watch Palliative Care: A Lifeline to Quality of Life to learn what the American Cancer Society is doing to advance the field of palliative care.