Saturday, October 13, 2018 is World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. This year’s theme is ‘Palliative Care – Because I Matter.’
Palliative care, also called supportive care or comfort care, is intended to improve quality of life by focusing on relieving symptoms associated with your cancer, side effects of treatment, and improving emotional well-being. Unlike hospice, palliative care can be given at any time during cancer treatment and can even start right after diagnosis.1 Palliative care may include medications, physical and occupational therapy, nutrition guidance, counseling, and referrals to support organizations.
Hospice care, sometimes called end-of-life-care, begins when a person’s cancer can no longer be treated to cure and the focus shifts to quality of life. Hospice is most usually begun when an individual is expected to live for 6 months or less.1
Myth: Palliative care and hospice are the same thing.
Fact: Although the terms palliative care and hospice are often used in similar contexts and both focus on quality of life, they are not the same. Palliative care can be given at any stage of the cancer treatment process and can be given at the same time as treatments intended to cure, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation. Hospice care, however, is given when the goal of treatment shifts from a curative goal to quality of life, often when a person is expected to have 6 or fewer months to live. Individuals from the palliative care team may help with the transition to hospice.2
Myth: Palliative care is only given at the end of life when cancer treatments are no longer working.
Fact: Being told about palliative care options does not necessarily mean that your cancer treatment is no longer working, that your cancer has progressed, or that your prognosis has changed. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life by reducing symptoms and side effects like pain, fatigue, and depression, while providing an extra layer of support to the patient, family, and caregivers. Palliative care aiming to improve quality of life is often given at the same time as other cancer treatments where the goal may be remission or control of your cancer. 1,2
Myth: If I receive palliative care, I can no longer receive care from my usual health care team.
Fact: Your cancer care team will work to manage the symptoms of your cancer and side effects of treatment. For more complicated cases, your existing healthcare team may refer you to palliative care specialists, including doctors and nurses specifically trained in supportive care. If you are referred to palliative care specialists but still receiving cancer treatments, you will continue to see your original team of providers in addition to the palliative care specialists.3
Myth: I can only receive palliative care in the hospital.
Fact: Palliative care can be given in many locations. In addition to receiving palliative care while in the hospital as an inpatient, it can also be received in an outpatient setting like a doctor’s office, in long-term care facilities, or at your home. Historically, palliative care specialists were most commonly found in the hospital setting but now, palliative care is becoming much more common in places outside of the hospital.2,3
Myth: The main goal of palliative care is to reduce my pain, not other symptoms or issues.
Fact: Pain is just one of many cancer-related issues that palliative care can address. Palliative care can address a number of aspects related to life with cancer, including:
Managing physical symptoms and side effects, like pain, fatigue, and nausea
Dealing with emotional distress, like depression and anxiety, and helping to develop individualized coping mechanisms
Assisting with practical issues like insurance claims, advanced care planning (living will, directives), financial and legal concerns
Providing suggestions and support resources to caregivers and family members1
Myth: Palliative care is never covered by insurance.
Fact: Private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid often cover certain types of palliative care. For people who are uninsured or underinsured, a social worker or financial counselor may be able to help you find resources to make palliative care more affordable.1,2
Join the conversation
Share your experience with hospice or palliative care as a blood cancer patient, caregiver, or advocate.
Palliative Care in Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/care-choices/palliative-care-fact-sheet. Accessed 8/1/2018.
Caring for the Symptoms of Cancer and its Treatment. Cancer.net. Available at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/palliative-care/caring-symptoms-cancer-and-its-treatment. Accessed 8/1/2018.
A Guide to Palliative or Supportive Care. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/palliative-care/supportive-care-guide.html. Accessed 8/2/2018.