How Palliative Care Can Smooth Your Cancer Journey

We’ve written a lot about palliative care in the past here on the Regency Blog. As an example, here is a detailed post about the difference between palliative care and hospice care.

As a quick recap, palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. This is care given in conjunction with curative medical care, most commonly for cancer. The patient will see an oncologist or other doctor to treat and hopefully cure his cancer, and will also see a palliative care specialist to help manage pain and other unpleasant side effects from the disease and its treatment.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is a philosophy of care that focuses on relieving a terminally ill patient’s symptoms. On hospice care, the patient typically discontinues all curative care, and focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual support during the last months and weeks of their life.

In short: Palliative care is an important part of the hospice program, but it is also a level of care on its own. Anybody suffering from any uncomfortable disease can benefit from palliative care.

How Does Palliative Care Help With Cancer?

A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and frightening. Most of the time you need to act quickly against the cancer, and you’re plunged into a world of treatments, pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Palliative care can help maximize your quality of life and peace of mind during the turbulent ride of cancer treatment. Your expert palliative care providers can offer effective pain relief, symptom management, improved communication, and emotional support while you navigate your cancer. The team also extends support to the patient’s loved ones who are also hurting.

The care team usually consists of a doctor or nurse practitioner, a social worker, and a spiritual care provider such as clergy.

Says Dr. Rebecca Burke, palliative care specialist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, “Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a cancer diagnosis and can be provided along with curative treatment. The oncology team may refer patients to meet with the palliative care team due to worsening pain, uncontrolled symptoms, or for extra support when facing serious illness.”

Dr. Burke provides palliative care to outpatients at Rutgers Cancer Institute, as well as at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Her team helps cancer patients manage pain, control nausea, deal with anxiety, and many other issues.

“A growing body of research shows that early consultation with the palliative care team leads to improved pain and symptom management,” Dr. Burke says. “Some studies have even shown improved survival when palliative care is provided early in the course of cancer care.”

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