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Managing Cancer Care

Who Should Get Palliative Care and Why?

Any person diagnosed with a serious illness who is having symptoms should get palliative care. People with complex medical problems, for instance, someone who is diagnosed with and being treated for heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, or cancer, should get palliative care. These serious illnesses often lead to physical, emotional, spiritual, and social problems that go beyond what the medical team can provide.

Why palliative care is important in cancer care

For cancer patients, it's important to remember that the effects of cancer and its treatment can be very different from person to person. A palliative care team includes a group of specialists who look at each person's situation and work together to help the patient and caregiver with various types of needs. The palliative care team can help by:

  • Controlling physical symptoms and side effects
  • Managing emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Showing the family ways to coping with life and family changes
  • Understanding any spiritual concerns
  • Supporting needs of caregivers
  • Assisting with financial, work, and insurance issues
  • Helping fill out advance directives and other forms
  • Transitioning to hospice care if treatment stops working or if cancer worsens

Palliative care should be offered and be available from the time of diagnosis until it’s no longer needed – at any stage and in any care setting.

Benefits of palliative care

There are many studies that show the benefits of palliative care on the well-being of patients and their families or caregivers. For example, studies have shown that patients who have palliative care visits while in the hospital spend less time in intensive care units and are less likely to visit the emergency room or to be re-admitted to the hospital after they go home. Studies have also shown that people with chronic illnesses, like cancer, who get palliative care have less severe symptoms. They have better quality of life, less pain, less shortness of breath, less depression, and less nausea.

Research has also shown that cancer patients receiving palliative care have better emotional health. This may be because their medical care tends to better align with their values, goals, and preferences. Their families also feel more satisfied with the patient's care.

Some studies have also suggested that starting palliative care soon after a cancer diagnosis may also extend survival.

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 where to find palliative care programs in your state

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

Dunn GP, Pruskowski J, Simonian LK. Palliative care for cancer and treatment-related changes for inpatients. In Hopewood P, Milroy MJ, eds. Quality Cancer Care: Survivorship Before, During, and After Treatment. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company; 2018:199-216.

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.

Flaherty C, Fox K, McDonah D, Murphy J. Palliative care screening. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2018; 22(4):E92-E96.

Gomes B, Calanzani N, Curiale V, McCrone P, Higginson IJ. Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of home palliative care services for adults with advanced illness and their caregivers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013; 6(6):CD007760.

Hagmann D, Cramer A, Kestenbaum A, Durazo C….Roeland EJ. Evidence-based palliative care approaches to non-pain physical symptom management in cancer patients. Seminars in Oncology Nursing. 2018; 34(3):227-240.

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.

Thomas TH, Jackson VA, Carlson H, Rinaldi S….Greer JA. Communication differences between oncologists and palliative care clinicians: A qualitative analysis of early, integrated palliative care in patients with advanced cancer. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2018; 22(1):41-49.

Last Revised: May 10, 2019

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