Palliative care is an umbrella term that refers to any techniques that reduce a patient’s symptoms. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is not exclusively for end-of-life care. However, palliative care is not intended to stop the cancer’s growth in ways that a curative therapy could. Patients can benefit from palliative care at any point during their treatment, and hospice care can help with the administration of some forms of palliative care.
Most cancer patients begin a palliative care regimen as soon as they receive their diagnosis. They may continue their palliative regimen as they receive potentially curative treatments, especially since palliative therapies can help counteract the side effects of aggressive therapies.
A number of cancer patients receive both types of care simultaneously until curative care is no longer expected to extend the patient’s life expectancy. At that point, palliative care becomes the primary focus and is used to improve the patient’s quality of life. For some patients, particularly those diagnosed in a late stage of cancer development, palliative care is the primary therapeutic approach. Certain cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer are most commonly diagnosed in a late stage, making palliative therapies particularly important for these patients.
Palliative care may also have an emotional support element. Certain therapies – such as counseling or meditation – can help patients work through psychological, social and spiritual issues that arise after their cancer diagnosis.
Common Palliative Care Methods for Cancer and How they Help Patients
For cancer patients, palliative care can include traditional treatments such as surgery as well as alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Some of the most common palliative procedures include:
- Debulking surgeries: Reducing the tumor also reduces the amount of pressure on the organ; this can alleviate pain and other tumor-induced symptoms.
- Radiation therapy: Again, this reduces tumor volume, which can in turn reduce pain and localized symptoms.
- Pain medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and opioids are both powerful pain reducers for cancer patients.
- Ayurvedic medicine: This collection of mind-body therapies and natural medicines can help improve pain, anxiety and various other cancer symptoms.
- Therapeutic massage: Stimulating a patient’s muscles can help release tightness, soreness, stress and anxiety.
- Nutritional therapy: A proper diet can help patients feel stronger overall and less fatigued; it can also help patients manage treatment-related vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.
Patients may also explore unique palliative therapies that work for their specific cancer. For example, mesothelioma and lung cancer patients may turn to respiratory therapies to reduce dyspnea or coughing, while patients with brain cancer may take anti-seizure medications. Each patient’s oncologist can construct the most appropriate palliative care regimen for their specific condition.
Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center. One of her focuses is living with cancer.