Doctors call for earlier palliative care for cancer patients

November 3, 2016 Providence Health Team

People who are being treated for advanced forms of cancer should be given care that will comfort and support them as the disease progresses, according to updated guidelines from an association of oncologists.

Such care, intended to allow the patient to maintain the highest quality of life through treatment, is known as palliative care.

“Patients with advanced cancer, whether inpatient or outpatient, should receive dedicated palliative care services, early in the disease course, concurrent with active treatment,” according to the updated guidelines from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Referring patients to interdisciplinary palliative care teams is optimal, and services may complement existing programs.”

Providers should offer palliative care within six weeks of a patient’s diagnosis, the society advises.

The principles of palliative care

Palliative care is symptom management at all stages of a serious illness -- for patients who may be facing death and for those who are undergoing curative treatments. As the World Health Organization defines it, palliative care:

  • Will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness
  • Is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Provides relief from pain and other symptoms
  • Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
  • Intends neither to hasten or postpone death
  • Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
  • Offers a support system to help the family cope with the loved one’s illness and death
  • Uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counseling, if it would be helpful

The society of oncologists says palliative care may also include:

  • Education about illness and prognosis
  • Clarification of treatment goals
  • Assessment of and support for coping needs
  • Assistance with medical decision making
  • Coordination with or referral to other care providers

If you have a loved one who has late-stage cancer, talk to his or her caregiver about what kind of care – or what blend of approaches – is most appropriate. To find a Providence provider, consult our multi-state directory.

To read more deeply

The updated guidelines, “Integration of Palliative Care Into Standard Oncology Care: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline Update,” were published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, the official publication of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

A longer discussion of the place of palliative care for late-stage cancer patients is available on the society’s website.

The World Health Organization’s discussion of palliative care is published on its website.

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