When to Get Palliative Care for Cancer

by Team Onco

Patients who have cancer may experience a wide range of symptoms, such as dyspnea or shortness of breath, severe pain, chronic cough, exhaustion, fear, weight loss, and depression. Chemotherapy, radiation and some medications that are used in treating lung cancer can also have mild to severe side effects.

Palliative care for lung cancer Cancer fatigue syndrome refers to persistent exhaustion or tiredness that is not proportional to an individual’s current activity levels. This level of fatigue affects day to day functioning of an individual. Excessive fatigue is primarily linked to the disease as well as its treatment, and the accompanying mental, physical and emotional feelings and concerns. Difficulties in performing normal activities, mental fatigue such as memory and concentration-related problems may also be common.

While palliative care traditionally has been associated with only end-of-life support, various studies support early initiation of palliative care – immediately after diagnosis, to optimise the quality of life and better manage the symptoms.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care refers to specialised medical care designed for people with serious conditions such as cancer. It is aimed at providing relief from symptoms such as stress and pain. The goal of palliative care is to optimise the quality of life for cancer patients, as well as for the family. Specialised care can be given at any stage of the disease and at any age, along with the necessary medical treatment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines palliative care as “a way of dealing that improves the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and alleviation of suffering, the early identification of problems and the best assessment and treatment of pain and other physical, psychosocial and spiritual problems.”

A specially-trained team comprised of palliative care specialists such as doctors, social workers, nurses and others typically provide palliative care, even as they work in collaboration with oncologists and other healthcare providers.

In short, palliative care is:

  • a medical speciality that is focused on providing relief from wide-ranging symptoms such as stress, pain, and other treatment-related symptoms, aimed at improving your quality of life
  • specialised care that is received along with cancer treatment
  • discussed with the care providers (oncologist, physician, and other health care providers) before experiencing any side-effects
  • a speciality where a variety of medications are used to address discomfort and symptoms

What palliative care is not

A common misconception is that palliative care is something that is given only at the last stage (terminal stage) of an illness. 

Palliative care is not:

  • only given as the end of life care
  • given as a replacement for treatment or an indication that the treatment is not working
  • restricted to the use of morphine

What does palliative care address?

Palliative care can address and improve a range of symptoms and problems including:

  • communication about prognosis
  • communication about treatment options
  • pain
  • cough
  • hemoptysis or blood in cough/sputum
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • anxiety
  • problems with sleeping
  • depression

Where is palliative care offered?

In many countries across the world, guidelines and standards for palliative care and hospice have been developed.  It is recommended to adopt an integrated approach to palliative care – with a multidisciplinary team that includes the patient’s doctor, specialists in supportive care including nutritionists, physiotherapists, social workers, behavioural therapists, psychologists and pain management specialists. 

Palliative care is offered in hospitals, hospices, specialized long-term care facilities and at home. Palliative care centres are also available in some areas. Talk to a top oncologist to know more about lung cancer treatment options and available palliative care facilities in your area.

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