|Understanding Early Introduction of Palliative Care Options|
Developing care goals in cancer treatment is a comprehensive journey. Incorporating supportive or palliative care from an early stage in the care spectrum can often help you with symptom-management and pain management, and provide assistance with physical, psychological, and emotional support.
Early Palliative Care
“There are accumulating data showing that patients who start palliative care alongside their usual care live just as long or even longer, have less depression and anxiety, the use less chemotherapy very near the end of life, get less aggressive care (ICU, hospital, intubations) near the end of life, and their caregivers fare better if the person dies,” says Thomas J. Smith MD FACP, Director of Palliative Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and Professor of Oncology, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore. “And, all the studies show equal or even reduced cost to this approach. Patients who use hospice – even for one day – live longer than those who never use hospice.”
Take Advantage of Available Resources
Smith says palliative care is not just end of life anymore, and recommends that patients and caregivers advocate and ask for these types of resources and support. “This requires that practices find collaborators, reach out to local hospices and palliative care providers, and change the way we practice, particularly as people get sicker and have poor performance status,” Dr. Smith says.
J. Cameron Muir, MD, FAAHPM, an internist and medical oncologist with Capital Caring, a leading palliative care provider with seven offices across the Washington D.C.-metro area, says that itis often beneficial for patients to discuss and develop goals of care and incorporate supportive care in the cancer treatment experience at the early stages of diagnosis. "By discussing issues like pain management, symptom-control and other factorsearly in the treatment process, patients are more likely to receive better support during their cancer treatment," he says. "Things can begin softly in palliative care. If the patient is comfortable during treatment, this can greatly enhance their quality of life and assist in the way they manage an illness.”
Discussing Available Options
During a consultation with a palliative care specialist, you should feel free to discuss your emotions, physical symptoms, and any psychological conditions you may be experiencing as a result of their illness.
“Doctors should be screening pain at every visit and talking openly with patients about how they are feeling, including the social, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects that a serious illness may bring to bear,” Dr. Muir says. “These four areas are vital to treating a patient as a whole person, not just a cancer patient.”
Dr. Muir maintains that patients may tolerate treatment better if they are under a regimen of pain control and symptom management and are offered assistance to enhance elements of daily living, including good sleeping patterns, quality nutrition, emotional support, and other medical-related issues. “Patients should expect that nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, and social workers should be partners in their care,” he said. “A comprehensive cancer center is a hub of resources and is generally committed to assisting patients in creating a satisfying and comprehensive cancer care experience.”
Enhancing Quality of Life
Above all, Dr. Muir maintains that if a palliative care plan is discussed early in a treatment plan it is proven to add not only a better quality of life for you, but for your family as well – and may even increase your survival.
“A patient doesn’t have to suffer with pain. A well-trained palliative care specialist can create a satisfying care experience that can offer better physical and emotional symptom management.”