The word “cancer” may conjure up thoughts of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. While these treatment methods are effective, it is important for cancer patients to know they also have the option to receive palliative care, a holistic treatment regimen that begins at the time of diagnosis.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is specialized care for adults and children suffering from severe, chronic or life-threatening diseases. An interdisciplinary care team, made up of doctors, nurses, specialists, medical social workers, and therapists, focus on improving the lives of these patients and their family members. They do so by aligning medical treatments with their values, goals, and preferences.
Why palliative care?
The American Cancer Society reports studies show that patients who participated in palliative care spend less time in intensive care units and are less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital after discharge. In addition, studies also show that cancer patients who receive palliative care have less severe symptoms of cancer, such as shortness of breath, depression, and nausea.
What issues does palliative care address?
Palliative care is a holistic, comprehensive approach to cancer treatment that addresses physical, emotional, logistical, and spiritual issues for patients and their family members.
Physical: Pain, exhaustion, difficulty breathing, nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting are all common side effects for patients with cancer. While chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery relieve some pain and are a part of palliative care, other remedies like nutrition therapy and physical therapy are utilized to help patients feel as best as they physically can.
Emotional: Cancer patients and their families experience a whirlwind of emotions from the time of diagnosis. Typical feelings include fear, anxiety, and depression. Medical social workers can provide both parties resources for managing their stresses and emotions. They can connect the patient and family to additional resources, such as counseling, support groups recommendations, or make referrals to mental health professionals.
Logistical: The anxiety and stress that comes with cancer can make it difficult for patients and their families to adequately consider logistical concerns. Paperwork and legalities are challenging to understand, and a palliative care team can provide the necessary support when it comes to financial, legal, and employment concerns.
Spiritual: Cancer patients and their families often struggle with feelings of peace and acceptance. While some wish to deepen their spirituality, others need support and reassurance. A palliative care team typically has a chaplain available who can help patients and their families s come to terms with their illness and offer spiritual guidance and support.
How does palliative care differ from hospice?
The focus for both hospice care and palliative care is to provide support and comfort for cancer patients and their families. The main difference between the two is that palliative care tends to be presented early on, often directly after diagnosis. Hospice, on the other hand, is introduced after the disease is no longer considered curable, or responsive to treatment. In addition, patients can receive palliative care while they are undergoing curative treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Hospice care focuses on providing comfort, dignity and peace for people in the final stages of life.
Who pays for palliative care?
Health insurance plans typically pay for palliative care services. In addition, some Medicare and Medicaid plans will also cover palliative care, depending on the situation. When patients do not have health insurance or do not know what services their plans cover, they should speak with a social workers, a health insurance representative, or the hospital’s financial counselor.
Can palliative care be customized?
Palliative care can be tailored to best address patients’ needs and personal wishes. The physical and emotional struggles widely differ among patients. Age, culture, support systems, and life experiences also affect how patients and their families deal with the stages of cancer.
Cancer’s adverse effects can leave both the patient and their family members feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and hopeless. Our palliative care teams are here to support you and your family throughout all stages of cancer. While palliative care is not a cure for cancer, it does provide you and your family with the necessary resources to cope better with the disease.