Diagnosis and treatment

About palliative care

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Many people associate palliative care with end-of-life or hospice care, however these are not the same thing.1

While palliative care may include end-of-life care when that becomes appropriate or necessary, it goes much further beyond this and is routinely used earlier in an illness than end-of-life care is.1

If you are interested in learning more about end-of-life care, and feel this is the right time for you to be considering it, you can find more information about this here.

Palliative, or supportive, care is designed to help people with serious illnesses, such as cancer, to live as full a life as possible. It is about combining medical treatments with emotional, spiritual and occasionally financial support, so that the person receiving care is treated as a whole. It may be carried out at the same time as receiving cancer therapy.1
A diagram representing how palliative care encompasses medical, emotional, spiritual, and occasionally financial care, to treat a person and their family as a whole
With palliative care you can still make decisions about what treatments and interventions you decide to receive. This differs from end-of-life care where you may not be physically or mentally able to make those decisions.

Crucially, palliative care doesn’t mean giving up on anything – it is just an additional means of support.1    

Palliative care can encompass a wide range of support services, which may include:

If you continue to struggle with pain or symptoms from your cancer, your healthcare team will be able to offer you additional support such as, medicines, surgery, radiotherapy, physiotherapy, occupational health services etc.2,3 

With these, your healthcare team will aim to either remove your pain or symptoms, or at least alleviate its severity so that you can continue to live your life without it affecting you as much.

Understandably, after receiving a cancer diagnosis you might find yourself struggling with feelings like anxiety, stress, depression, hopelessness etc., or perhaps you just feel that you would like somebody to talk to.

In these instances, you may be referred to counselling or psychological support services.2 These services can help you work through any emotional difficulties or mental health problems you may be experiencing, so that you can hopefully focus more on what matters to you.

If you practice a faith, then consulting your local leader may be a source of comfort and support for you.2 Many hospitals also have faith rooms for prayer or reflection if you (or any carers or loved ones with you) feel you need this while at an appointment.

There may also be certain rituals associated with your culture or faith that you would like observed (for example, praying, or fasting at certain times, bathing, etc.), and support is available for you at these times too.

Spirituality isn’t confined to those who practice a faith. You may carry out other activities that are meaningful to you and your wellbeing, such as journaling, keeping a diary, or practising meditation. Whatever you like to do, you can ask for help and support if you need it.

Depending on your circumstances, and any impact your diagnosis has on your working life, you may find that you need some extra financial support.2 In these cases, it’s sometimes possible to get support to work with local governments, and sometimes charities, to ensure you are receiving any entitlements or sick pay so that you can worry less about finances.

Palliative care services may also go beyond just the person with cancer – after all, your family, friends, carers and any other loved ones are a crucial part of your support network. They may also be able to offer support to your family and loved ones too.2 This could take many forms, including:

  • Psychological support if they are struggling with their emotional, or mental health
  • Helping to source caring services, or volunteers who can take on some activities
  • Providing guidance and advice for how to help manage a loved one’s health condition

If you feel like you could benefit from some of the support mentioned here, then why not ask your healthcare team about palliative care.

ALKAnaplastic lymphoma kinase
NSCLCNon-small cell lung cancer

  1. Marie Curie. What are palliative care and end of life care? Available from: https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/diagnosed/recent-diagnosis/palliative-care-end-of-life-care. Last accessed July 2019.
  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). NCCN Clinical Practice Guideline in Oncology: Palliative Care, Version 2.2019. 2019.
  3. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). NCCN Clinical Practice Guideline in Oncology: Adult Cancer Pain, Version 2.2019. 2019.