What Is Palliative Care?

Being diagnosed with a debilitating disease like lung cancer is intimidating for the patient and their family. Depending on the stage of illness, sometimes certain treatment options aren’t available to the patient. If primary therapies cannot be used to effectively remove illness, your doctor may recommend palliative care.

Supportive treatments focus on helping patients manage pain and symptoms associated with the disease. A palliative care team usually consists of multiple medical professionals who include doctors, nurses, and social workers among others. This team will work together with your oncologist to deliver the best care possible to you or your loved one.

How Palliative Care Helps

This form of treatment is helpful for anyone who is living with a severe illness. This includes lung cancer (or other cancers), heart failure, and dementia, to name a few. Once your doctor makes a diagnosis, they’ll assess whether supportive treatments are a good idea. The purpose of this treatment is to deliver specialized care to a patient while boosting their quality of life and potentially improving their prognosis.

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Delivers Specialized Care

All medical professionals on a supportive care team are trained in specific areas, so they have extensive knowledge of those areas versus a general medical professional. They handle patients with illnesses similar to yours and have a more in-depth insight into pain management. This team works as an extra layer of support for both the patient and their family.

Improves Quality of Life

Supportive care can vastly improve the quality of life in a patient in more ways than one, mental and physical. The team helps the patient relieve the discomfort and pain that comes from disease symptoms and provides emotional support. Symptoms can affect both areas (body and mind) and can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic cough
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Wheezing
Potentially Enhances Prognosis

A prognosis is the doctor’s prediction on how a disease may progress within the patient. Recent studies have reported findings that suggested patients with advanced lung cancer who receive supportive care sooner after their diagnosis lived longer than those who didn’t receive supportive care or waited longer, thus effectively improving their initial prognosis. Each patient is different, however, so this isn’t guaranteed.

Your care team will have an abundance of resources and therapies they can choose from to curate a personalized palliative treatment plan for you based on your needs and oncologist recommendations.

This is a generic image representing palliative, hospice and curative care.

Differences Between Palliative, Hospice, and Curative Care

Sometimes patients get palliative, hospice, or curative care mixed up. That can be easy to do with how many new medical terms get thrown around during these times. Each level of lung cancer treatment has very distinct differences and purposes.

Hospice and palliative treatment are similar in that they both help patients manage pain and symptoms. They are different in that hospice care provides a patient with specialized end-of-life care, while palliative treatment offers specialized medical care that can be administered at any stage in illness.

Curative care is different because it’s provided to the patient in earlier stages of the disease, with the intent to cure or effectively remove lung cancer tumors or other illnesses.

This is an image representing a lung cancer diagnosis.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Staging

When you develop symptoms and go to your doctor, they’ll administer screenings and tests which they’ll send to a lab to be examined. Once your doctor gets the results, they’ll give you an official diagnosis and inform you on what stage of the disease you’re in and recommend treatment options.

Curative Treatment Options

If your disease has not progressed too far, you may be eligible for curative treatment options. That said, you may also receive palliative care even if curative treatments are an option.

Lung cancer remedial treatment options generally consist of chemotherapy (HIPEC), radiation, surgery, targeted treatments (radiofrequency ablation), and immunotherapy (CAR T-Cell). Your doctor may choose one or a combination of these treatments along with emerging treatments developed in clinical trials or complementary therapies to effectively remove lung cancer tumors. Clinical trials are a way for patients to test out new medications and therapies that may not be available to the public yet.

Palliative Treatment Options

There are several palliative care treatment methods for patients. Once your doctor has made a diagnosis and recommendation for a care team, specialists will develop a treatment plan based on your ailments and general health. Examples of supportive care for lung cancer include providing:

  • Cough suppressant medication
  • Counseling and emotional support
  • Loss of appetite or nausea medication
  • Massage and mindfulness therapy
  • Pain management medication
  • Nutritional supplements to help with weight loss
  • Tactics for opening airways
  • Medications to open closed airways and improve breathing

These are just some of the many care tactics for lung cancer patients. The primary goal of supportive therapy is to ensure the patient is as comfortable and happy as possible.

Next Steps

Diagnosed with lung cancer and wondering what your treatment options are? Have a discussion with your doctor. They’ll be able to fully assess your illness level and let you know whether you need curative, palliative, caregiver, or hospice care based on your stage of the disease, general health, and other essential factors. They can also direct you to support groups for coping, mental health resources, and even clinical trials if needed as an alternate source of treatment.