Palliative Care Benefits

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End-of-life care, including hospice, was the topic of my last post. Today I want to share an article I found on jsonline.com that focuses on palliative care and its surprising benefits.  A study done at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that terminal lung cancer patients who started immediately on palliative care along with usual cancer care lived nearly three months longer than people given only standard cancer care, even when the second group had more chemotherapy.

One of the most common misconceptions about palliative care is that it means treatment has failed and the patient is giving up. In fact, palliative care is meant to help the gravely ill make the most of the time they have left.  It typically involves a variety of caregivers who specialize in pain control and treating symptoms (such as nausea) that affect quality of life. It is not the same as hospice when doctors think a patient has less than six months to live and treating the illness no longer helps.

The study involved 151 people newly diagnosed with cancer that had spread beyond the lung. All received routine cancer care and about half also got palliative care. More than half of those on standard care alone received chemo in their last two weeks of life.  Only a third of the palliative care patients did. Yet the palliative care group’s median survival was more than 11 months versus less than nine months for the group receiving standard care.

Quality of life and physical functioning improved in the palliative care group and worsened in the others. Depression was less than half as common in the palliative care group.

Doctors say when people feel better, they are much more likely to go for treatment and take better care of themselves, and that affects survival. This study shows that palliative care should be a routine part of managing any serious illness.

For more details on the study, read the article.

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