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A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that patients with a serious illness who received palliative care lived longer than those who did not receive this care.

What does “palliative care” mean?

Palliative care is different from hospice care. Although they share the same principles of comfort and support, palliative care can be offered at diagnosis and continues through treatment and beyond. Palliative care is now defined as specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness – whatever the diagnosis.

The goal is to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage of the illness, and can be provided at the same time as life-sustaining treatment.

Many of these patients will benefit from palliative care throughout their illness and at the end of their lives. This care is provided for as long as the patient needs it. The main goal is to treat and manage physical and emotional symptoms including pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, fatigue, depression and trouble sleeping.

In addition, palliative care can help patients and their loved ones understand their medical condition and determine treatment goals.

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For cancer patients, the goal of palliative care is to prevent and treat, as early as possible, the symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment. Ideally it should begin at diagnosis and continue through treatment, follow-up care, and the end of life.

The most noticeable benefit of palliative care (also called supportive care) is the relief of physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea and shortness of breath. It also includes counseling and other services which can ease the emotional and spiritual distress of patients and their families. There is financial benefit, as well, as when patients get their treatment concurrently with palliative care, and treatment options have been exhausted, these patients are less likely to receive unnecessary care in the emergency room or intensive care unit at the end of their life.

Untreated physical and emotional distress can shorten lives. The survival benefit from palliative care is likely the result of the patient feeling better emotionally and physically, and therefore, they are able to continue their cancer treatment with less difficulty.

Please join us for an evening with our Palliative Care Director, Matthew Katics, DO, to learn how palliative medicine can help you or your loved one live better. This informational presentation will take place at both Mission Hope Cancer Center locations: Thursday, Nov. 14 at 5 p.m., at 1325 E. Church St., Conference Room, Santa Maria – 805-219-HOPE (4673) and Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 5 p.m., 850 Fair Oaks Ave., Third Floor Conference Room, Arroyo Grande – 805-474-5300. A light dinner will be served. Please call for reservations as space is limited.

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical center Cancer Program invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org

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