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Four Things to Know About Palliative Care and Hospice

Coping with a serious or life-threatening illness, such as cancer, is never easy. But it helps when you or someone you love receives both physical and emotional support that may dramatically improve quality of life—even at the end of life. This support can come from many places, including your family, your support community, and your entire cancer team.

There are additional services that can offer increased support when it is needed: palliative care and hospice. These services focus on compassion and comfort and improving quality of life by helping with symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath. They also support patients and families as they cope with serious illness.

Here are four things you should know about palliative care and hospice.

1. Palliative care is available for anyone with a serious disease at any time during the diagnosis and treatment process.

The goal of palliative care is to help improve the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. In the case of cancer, palliative care may be included along with treatments to slow, stop, or cure the disease, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Your providers may recommend that you meet with the palliative care team if you have uncontrolled symptoms, even if you are receiving treatment and hope to recover.

“We know that early palliative care for patients who have especially advanced stages of cancer can improve mood, coping, and quality of life,” said Molly E. Collins, MD, director of medical education with the Fox Chase Pain and Palliative Care Program. “Palliative care helps patients navigate life while coping with cancer and live as well as possible, despite facing a serious illness.”

2. Pain management is only part of palliative care.

A multidisciplinary team of specialists come together to provide personalized palliative care.

“Palliative care is more than a set of services,” Collins said. “It is a way of approaching an individual as a whole person along with their family system to improve quality of life.” 

3. Hospice care is for people who are thought to have six months or less to live.

This care focuses on quality of life during the last stages of life. It’s designed to keep people as comfortable as possible when treatment isn’t expected to cure an illness. It can help terminally ill people live their remaining days with dignity, usually at home.

“Most hospice services are provided in the home to patients and their families,”  Collins said. “Services include medications, equipment—such as a hospital bed or oxygen—and a care team. This care is overseen by a nurse who visits the patient regularly and is supplemented with social work services, some personal care help, chaplaincy, and volunteers.”

4. People who receive hospice care remain under the care of their physician.

When a person receives hospice care, their doctor still oversees all of their care. Hospice is a helpful addition—not a replacement—for a physician’s care.

Hospice care can help people meet their personal goals at the end of life, like spending more time with loved ones, staying out of the hospital, or being as pain-free and symptom-free as possible. 

“It can be tough to accept that we don’t have control over whether we live or die,” Collins said. “But hospice gives us some control over how that happens.”

The palliative care team at Fox Chase includes a multidisciplinary group of professionals, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and social workers. When referred by your care team, palliative services are appropriate for people of all ages and at all stages of cancer.

Learn more about palliative care here.