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Palliative care is a special approach to caring for anyone with serious illness, such as cancer. Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of life by helping patients and caregivers manage the symptoms of a serious illness and side effects of treatment. It’s designed to work with the health care team to help people with a serious illness live as well as they can for as long as they can.
Palliative care is appropriate for people of any age and at any stage in any serious illness. Palliative care should be used whenever the person has symptoms that need to be controlled.
Palliative care is recommended as a standard part of care given to people with cancer. Palliative care does not treat the cancer itself, but can be provided at any time during the cancer experience. Often, palliative care is offered as soon as cancer is diagnosed, provided at the same time as cancer treatment, and continued after treatment is complete. One of its goals is to prevent or treat symptoms and side effects as early as possible.
Palliative care looks at how the cancer experience is affecting the whole person by helping to relieve symptoms, pain, and stress. It gives patients options and allows them and their caregivers to take part in planning their care. It’s about making sure that all their care needs are addressed. The specialized professionals who are part of the palliative care team can help look for and manage mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual issues that may come up.
Palliative care may also be called supportive care, symptom management, or comfort care. And it's often a part of hospice care if cancer is no longer being treated because it has worsened. No matter what it’s called, palliative care has long been recognized as an important part of cancer care and treatment.
When care is given:
What other care can be given:
What the care team does:
To learn more, see How and where is hospice care provided and how is it paid for?
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 journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Along with the American Cancer Society, other sources of information on palliative care include:
Has information on palliative care for patients and home caregivers, including a directory for palliative care providers.
Has information on hospice and palliative care, caregiving, advance care planning, grief and loss.
Has a helpful list of resources for people living with serious illness and for their caregivers and loved ones
City of Hope Pain/Palliative Care Resource Center
Web-based clearinghouse of information and resources to help patients and families to improve the quality of pain management and palliative care
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Palliative care in oncology. Accessed at https://www.asco.org/practice-guidelines/cancer-care-initiatives/palliative-care-oncology on April 2, 2019.
Doyle C. Concurrent palliative care: Recommendations from the ASCO clinical practice guideline. 2017. Accessed at https://www.ascopost.com/issues/december-10-2017/concurrent-palliative-care-recommendations-from-the-asco-clinical-practice-guideline/ on April 2, 2019.
Ferrell BR, Temel JS, Temin S, Smith TJ. Integration of palliative care into standard oncology care: ASCO clinical practice guideline update summary. Journal of Oncology Practice. 2017; 13(2):119-121.
Krouse RS, Kamal AH. Interdisciplinary care for patients with advanced cancer. In DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019:2242-2247.
Marrelli TM. Hospice and Palliative Care Handbook. Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International; 2018.
Nabati L, Abrahm JL. Caring for patients at the end of life. In Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:751-763.
National Cancer Institute (NCI). Palliative care in cancer. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/care-choices/palliative-care-fact-sheet on April 2, 2019.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Palliative care. Version 1.2019. Accessed at www.nccn.org on April 2, 2019.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Aging (NIA). What are palliative care and hospice care? Accessed at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-palliative-care-and-hospice-care on April 2, 2019.
Sherman DW, Matzo M, Metheny T. The interprofessional practice of palliative care nursing. In ML Matzo, ed. Palliative Care Nursing. 4th ed. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company; 2014:3-20.
Last Revised: May 10, 2019
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