Managing Treatments

Palliative Care for Cancer Patients: What to Consider

Palliative care can take place in your home, in a nursing facility, at the hospital or in an outpatient clinic.

Cancer treatment can be overwhelming for those with cancer and their families. You may need additional assistance in managing the various physical, social and emotional side effects of treatment. To better assist you through, your cancer care team may recommend you consider enrolling in palliative care.

What Is Palliative Care for Cancer Patients? Is It Right for Me?

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization defined palliative care as, “patient and family-centered care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering. …[It] involves addressing physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual needs and to facilitate patient autonomy, access to information and choice.”

A specially trained doctor works alongside your cancer care team to help you manage the side effects of treatment. At UVA Cancer Center, a palliative care team also includes nurses, social workers, nutritionists, music therapists, chaplains, massage therapists and psychologists.

When Can I Begin Receiving It?

Palliative care is a holistic health care approach available to anyone facing serious illness. You can begin receiving such care as soon as you’re diagnosed with cancer or another life-limiting illness. You can be in the early or advanced stages of cancer. The National Institute on Aging stated that palliative care is “best provided from the point of diagnosis.”

Will I Have to Stop Treatment?

To be clear, palliative care is not hospice care. To enroll in hospice care, you must have a diagnosis of six months or less to live. You must also agree to end curative treatment. Hospice, however, does provide pain management and comfort care.

In palliative care, you can continue receiving curative treatment for as long as you wish. You will also receive comfort care that focuses on symptom relief, pain management and stress reduction. Your team can provide complementary and alternative care, including massage therapy and acupuncture. They can also help you manage the logistics of care, such as follow-up appointments and needed caregiving.

Palliative care is about choice. If your treatment stops working, the team can help you explore additional treatment options.

What If I Receive a Terminal Diagnosis?

If your diagnosis is or becomes terminal, it is still up to you whether to continue or seek out life-prolonging treatment. You may want to explore other options available to you, including clinical trials. The team can help you decide whether these make sense for you and what you can expect.

You will still receive the same pain management and comfort care services up until your death. The team can also help you, your family and your caregivers through the dying process. The team can provide other end-of-life care options or transition you to hospice, if that is your wish.

Where Does It Take Place?

Palliative care for cancer patients can be administered in your home, in a nursing facility, at the hospital or in an outpatient clinic. UVA Health System’s Palliative Care Clinic operates Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Will Insurance Cover It?

Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance policies may cover palliative care, but you’ll have to check with your insurance provider before enrolling. A financial counselor at your cancer center can help you find out what your plan allows. If you’re a veteran, you may be eligible for palliative care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cancer can quickly take over the most organized among us. Palliative care provides an additional layer of support to see you and your family through treatment and beyond.

Whether you're newly diagnosed with cancer or currently in treatment, learn how palliative care can benefit you and your family.

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Rita Colorito