Palliative care: New guidelines emphasize need to start care early in cancer diagnosis to maximize quality of life
November 7, 2016 | by Denise Heady
Palliative care is crucial in cancer treatment. It is intended to address quality-of-life concerns from the time of a cancer diagnosis and it should be treated as an integral part of standard treatment from early on in the disease course — especially for those diagnosed with an advanced cancer.
The American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) agrees.
New guidelines, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, were developed by a multidisciplinary expert panel and recommended that patients with advanced cancer should receive dedicated palliative care services, early in the disease course, concurrent with active treatment like chemotherapy.
These recommendations were updated and revised from the 2012 provisions clinical opinion, which reinforces the integration of palliative care into standard oncology care for all patients diagnosed with cancer.
Lead author Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., City of Hope's director of Nursing Research and Education and a leader in the field of palliative care nursing and research, co-chaired the expert panel and told Reuters Health that people who receive palliative care, “tend to live longer, have better symptom management and better quality of life.”
“Most hospitals and most cancer centers have palliative care, but most patients only get to palliative care in the last weeks and months of life,” said Ferrell in the interview.
Ferrell also noted it is important not to confuse palliative care with end-of-life care.
“End-of-life care has focused on the last weeks of life while palliative care is now seen as essential from the time of diagnosis,” said Ferrell in a previous interview. “Palliative care is instituted concurrently with disease-focused care so that while patients are getting the best available treatments for their cancer, they are also getting the best attention to their quality-of-life concerns.”
The panel recommends oncology teams should make a referral for patients with advanced cancer to a palliative care team within eight weeks of cancer diagnosis.
Essential components of palliative care may include:
- Rapport and relationship building with the patient and family caregivers
- Symptom, distress and functional status management
- Exploration of understanding and education about illness and prognosis
- Clarification of treatment goals
- Assessment and support of coping needs
- Assistance with medical decision making
- Coordination with other care providers
- Provision of referrals to other care providers as indicated
Learn more about City of Hope's Department of Supportive Care Medicine.
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