When you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it is normal to be overwhelmed by thoughts of prognosis, treatments, and potential complications. Patients wonder how their lives are going to change and whether their quality of life will ever return to normal. Pain and other symptoms, sometimes from the disease and sometimes from the treatments, can have a negative impact on one's ability to maintain a satisfactory quality of life. Dealing with the diagnosis and learning how to live with cancer requires a team effort and support from a number of professionals.
Palliative care, sometimes referred to as supportive oncology services, is a specialized field of medicine focused on patients with serious illness. The goal is to help maximize quality of life through expert pain and symptom management, improved communication about goals of care and advance care planning, all while providing an extra layer of support while dealing with a serious illness. The palliative care team works closely with the oncology team to help ensure that a patient's quality of life is a focus as they and loved ones deal with all stages of cancer.
Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a cancer diagnosis and can be provided along with curative treatment. A palliative care team generally includes a physician or advanced practice nurse, a social worker, and a spiritual care provider. 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.
At Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, palliative care consultation is available both in the outpatient setting as well as for patients admitted to our flagship facility Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, an RWJBarnabas Health facility. We specialize in advanced pain management as well as symptoms such as uncontrolled nausea, anxiety, constipation, fatigue and poor appetite. All treatment recommendations are made after a discussion with a patient's primary oncologist. A growing body of research shows that early consultation with the palliative care team leads to improved pain and symptom management, improved quality of life, improved advance care planning, as well as improved patient and caregiver satisfaction. Some studies have even shown improved survival when palliative care is provided early in the course of cancer care.