Oncology Palliative Care

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

If detected early, many cancers can be treated effectively. Around 50% of the cancers can be cured with radical treatment. For pediatric patients, that number is much higher. Despite this, a large number of cancer patients die each year from the disease and its complications.

What is palliative care?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002, “Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment, and treatment of pain and other problems – physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

Palliative care refers to the symptom relief that is provided to patients at the terminal stages of their cancer. Palliative care provides symptom relief for the patient and also psychosocial and supportive care for the patient and his or her family members. Palliative care is useful in patients who are in advanced stages of cancer and have a very low chance of being cured, or when they are facing the terminal phase of the disease.

These end phases of cancer are often burdened with need for emotional, spiritual, social and economic support. Palliative care is an urgent humanitarian need worldwide for people with cancer and other chronic fatal diseases especially at end stages.

When should palliative care services be provided?

Ideally palliative care services should be provided from the time of diagnosis of life-threatening illness and the services should continue throughout the course of the disease.

Palliative care services also include bereavement support for the family. To be effective, these services need to be integrated into the existing health system at all levels of care, especially community and home-based care. These need involvement of both public and the private sector and need to adapt to the specific cultural, social and economic setting of the community. Palliative care is an essential part of the multidisciplinary cancer care team.

What does palliative care involve?

Palliative care:

  • Provides relief from pain and other severe symptoms
  • Helps live the last days in as much comfort as possible
  • Helps patients live as actively as possible until death
  • It regards death as a normal process
  • Does not hasten or postpone death
  • Combines the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • Deals with issues of terminal cancer pain, severe nausea due to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, loss of appetite, fatigue, immobility, and mental ailments like depression
  • Supports the patients and their family spiritually, emotionally and socially
  • Uses a team effort to address the needs of patients and their families
  • Helps improve overall quality of life
  • Offers bereavement services for the family of the patient
  • If applied early during the course of illness, palliative care can prolong life - it can provide better symptom relief, quality of life and follow up services

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 28, 2012

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