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What is palliative care?
Dealing with the diagnosis of a serious illness can be difficult, and the expert care that you receive to treat your illness can be time-consuming, stressful and may have its own side effects. The Lifespan Cancer Institute’s palliative care clinic is here to help guide and support you throughout your illness and medical care. Palliative care is supportive care that addresses the physical, psychological and emotional concerns that can arise as a result of a serious illness. The goal of palliative care is to allow you to live your life as normally as possible—spending quality time with those you love and doing the things you like to do—throughout the process of being treated for your illness.
Palliative care also provides support for your family and friends. Another goal of palliative care is to improve communication between you and your health care providers, and help you make decisions regarding your treatment and set goals for the future that lead to a meaningful, enjoyable life.
An individual’s personality, age, general fitness and health, and support network, as well as his or her cultural and spiritual background, affect how one thinks about and deals with a serious illness. Palliative care specialists consider the whole person and his or her unique circumstances when providing care.
Serious illnesses and their treatments can cause exhaustion, anxiety and depression, in addition to physical pain and other symptoms. Palliative care provides help regardless of the type of illness, the stage of the illness or whether it is curable, chronic or life-threatening. You may want to consider palliative care if you:
- Experience pain or other symptoms—physical or emotional—that are not being adequately controlled
- Need help understanding your situation or making decisions about your treatment plan
- Are concerned about how your family or other loved ones are being affected
- Are worried about your future and unsure how to plan for it
Palliative care is available from the moment of diagnosis, throughout treatment, and after treatment is completed. It is never too early to start palliative care, and we encourage you to benefit from palliative care at the same time you are receiving treatment for your illness. There is no reason to wait.
Recent studies have shown that the sooner palliative care begins, the better the patient’s quality of life. The focus on treating the whole person has resulted in a shift in how health care is provided, with measurable benefits to the patient. Patients who receive palliative care can live longer, with less depression, and better adherence and response to treatments such as chemotherapy.
The primary goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve pain and to improve your quality of life, regardless of the type of illness, stage of illness or current treatment plan. Palliative care focuses on the big picture and strives to provide comprehensive, holistic care that addresses:
- Physical symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulty, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and helps you deal with the side effects of the medical treatments you are receiving. We provide opportunities to fully discuss, understand and make decisions about your choices regarding treatment of your disease and management of your symptoms.
- Psychological and emotional issues that arise during illness and treatment, including depression, anxiety, fear and changes in relationships.
We also offer support to your family and loved ones. We help you and your loved ones discuss your beliefs and values to fully understand how they influence your attitudes and decisions. Recent research indicates that patients who receive palliative care also have a better overall experience with their medical care.
A goal of palliative care is to improve communication between you and your health care providers, and help you make decisions regarding your treatment and set goals for the future that lead to a meaningful, enjoyable life.
We understand how important it is for members of your health care team to communicate with one another. Your oncologist or oncology nursing team may suggest that you visit with the palliative care team. You can request a referral and we will review your health care records.
After your visit we will communicate with members of your oncology team and discuss new treatments and suggestions to help with symptom management. We do not make cancer treatment suggestions, but we will assist in helping you understand your treatment options. If you have questions about your care, we will be sure that your cancer care providers are aware of your concerns.
Most health care insurance companies support palliative care referrals and cover this service. However, if you have concerns, we can assist in checking coverage with your insurance company.
Palliative care is provided by a team of specialists who take a collaborative approach. A palliative care specialist is a health professional who specializes in treating the symptoms, side effects, and psychological problems experienced by patients. The team works together with and supports your other physicians who are providing medical care to cure or manage your illness.
Your palliative care team may include:
- palliative care physicians
- palliative care nurses and nurse practitioners
- patient navigators
- social workers
- psychiatrists or counselors
- a chaplain