A person recently diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness may bristle at the suggestion of palliative care. Courage and bravery are noble virtues often attributed to people living with or dying from a serious illness — and to someone with a new diagnosis, the term “palliative care” may sound synonymous with surrender.
Even many doctors falsely believe palliative care is relevant only during the last weeks of life. (2) But palliative care is focused on the relief of symptoms and comfort of the patient, regardless of whether or not the illness in question is terminal. (1)
Palliative care specialists work in teams to address a patient’s pain, nausea, shortness of breath and other unpleasant symptoms. The team can help a patient weigh the pros and cons of various treatments, and evaluate a particular treatment’s potential to extend life versus its side effects.
A 2010 study of 151 lung cancer patients revealed that patients receiving palliative care immediately upon diagnosis reported less depression and worry, experienced less pain and lived nearly three months longer than patients receiving standardized care, according to The New York Times. (2)
Donald G. McNeil Jr., science and health reporter for The New York Times, wrote “... even though substantially fewer of them opted for aggressive chemotherapy as their illnesses worsened and many more left orders that they not be resuscitated in a crisis, they typically lived almost three months longer than the group getting standard care, who lived a median of nine months.” (2)
To reiterate, terminal patients who receive palliative care instead of traditional care can live longer. Palliative care specialists, doctors, nurses, counselors and social workers, help patients discern treatment decisions throughout their illness.
The team can also address the emotional impact of the illness and its treatment, the financial burden on family, and the daily minutiae of meals, dressing and personal care.