What is Palliative Chemotherapy – Why is it Necessary?

by Team Onco

Cancer treatments are of various types. Some are Curative while some are Palliative. Curative cancer treatments help to cure cancer while Palliative cancer treatments help to relieve a patient from pain or other cancer symptoms. Palliative care doesn’t cure cancer but it aids in improving the quality of life of the cancer patient.

Likewise, if chemotherapy is given to cure cancer, it’s termed Curative Chemotherapy. If chemotherapy is given to relieve a patient from cancer symptoms and improve quality of life, it is termed Palliative Chemotherapy.

Why palliative chemotherapy is important for cancer patients

Generally, chemotherapy is recommended in two conditions;

  • To treat cancer and control it from recurrence

Chemotherapy treats cancer by destroying fast-growing cells which is a characteristic of cancer cells. Here, chemotherapy aims to cure cancer completely and prevent the recurrence of cancer. In such cases, the administering chemotherapy is called Curative Chemotherapy. Some cancers that are potentially treated and cured by chemotherapy are lymphomas, leukemias, and testicular cancers.

  • To shrink the tumors and treat them effectively

 In the case of metastatic cancers (when cancer spreads to different parts of the body), chemotherapy cannot help to cure but is used to shrink the tumours. In such cases, the administering chemotherapy is called Palliative Chemotherapy. 

“In simple terms, Palliative Chemotherapy is given to relieve patients from pain or other cancer symptoms to aid in improving their quality of life and possibly prolonging their life expectancy.”

When is Palliative Chemotherapy given to a Cancer Patient?

Palliative chemotherapy is preferred for incurable cancers (when cancer has spread to other body parts and the patient is not responding to curative chemotherapy). In this instance, it will be beneficial to shrink the tumours or to provide relief from cancer symptoms. It can also be given alongside curative chemotherapy or at any time during cancer. 

Palliative chemotherapy can be given either orally or intravenously.

To date, palliative chemotherapy has successfully shown its benefits in pancreatic cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, and breast cancer.

Side effects of Palliative Chemotherapy:

The type and severity of side effects differ from patient to patient depending on the type of chemotherapy drugs used and the type of tumor being treated. However, common symptoms that take place;

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decrease in blood count
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea or vomiting

We suggest you ask your treating doctor about the specific side effects of your treatment and how they can be managed.

How Long Does Palliative Chemotherapy Last?

Duration depends upon multiple factors including type and stage of cancer, its symptoms, and patient’s general health. Mostly, it ranges between 3-12 months and life expectancy depends on how well a patient responds to this treatment. 

Cost of Palliative Chemotherapy in India: 

Cost may vary from hospital to hospital depending on locality, doctor’s expertise, and type of medical facility you choose. If you want to know the cost palliative chemotherapy for your condition, you can contact us at 79965 79965.

Consider the Pros and Cons before choosing Palliative Chemotherapy

Before deciding to take palliative chemotherapy, the patient’s age and general health, cancer stage, and expected treatment outcome must be taken into consideration. Also, ask your doctor what benefits and drawbacks you can get from the treatment.


As mentioned earlier, it makes you feel relief from cancer symptoms and improves your overall quality of life. If your tumour responds well to Palliative chemotherapy, then you can expect an increase in your survival rate.


Like all other cancer treatments, Palliative Chemotherapy also causes some harmless side effects. But your doctor can prescribe medications to deal with them. In rare cases, some patients might be less benefited from the treatment than expected.

Pros and cons of Palliative chemotherapy differ from person to person. There is no sufficient evidence that palliative chemotherapy works for all cancer patients. Primarily, Oncologists recommend this treatment to selected patients who are suffering from metastatic cancers with solid tumours.

Questions you should ask your doctor about Palliative Chemotherapy

Discuss with your doctor and gather as much information as you can about your case. Later take an informed decision after knowing it would be the right choice for you. We have listed down a few questions that you should ask your doctor.

  • Why is Palliative Chemotherapy the right choice for me?
  • Can it extend my lifespan?
  • Will it relieve me from cancer symptoms? 
  • Are there any specific side effects I may face?
  • Are the side effects of this treatment manageable?
  • Does it help improve quality of life?
  • What is the likelihood that my cancer will respond to this treatment?
  • How long does the treatment last?
  • Can I continue with my normal lifestyle during this treatment?
  • What if my cancer didn’t respond? Are there any alternate choices?

Studies of Chemotherapeutic Palliation

No chemotherapy regimen has shown to be a ‘gold standard.’ Studies conducted with trials in different cancers have shown varied results after chemotherapeutic palliation. 

Evidence to aid the use of palliative chemotherapy has been assessed scientifically, within clinical trials. The debate about the quality of life is gaining momentum. However, unlike survival and life expectancy, quality of life is subjective, which makes analysis problematic.

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