Ask early and often: Offering better palliative care

An article from Media Watch, compiled and annotated by Barry R. Ashpole (Ontario, Canada). More reports can be found at IPCRC.NET

Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2016;108(1). What is the biggest misconception on palliative care (PC)? If you ask any PC specialist, you are likely to hear the same answer: PC is only for patients nearly at the end of life. Although that misconception is shrinking among both clinicians and patients, there is a long way to go to broaden access to supportive care that can minimize symptoms and boost quality of life. Many clinical trials have shown the benefits of adding PC in conjunction with potentially curative therapies. “The tension for a cancer center to emphasize PC is profound,” said Kathleen M. Foley, MD., a neurologist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who specializes in pain management and palliative care. “A cancer center wants to be a cure center and to receive research funding for curative therapies. But my stance has always been that we can do both. Because the combination of potentially curative care together with alleviating symptoms and addressing a patient’s quality of life – that is the best cancer care. Step by step, we are learning that we can care and cure at the same time.” Jennifer S. Temel, MD., of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues carried out a keystone randomized study in metastatic lung cancer patients.1 Patients who received PC in addition to chemotherapy had better quality of life and were less likely to be depressed and to receive aggressive treatment in the last few weeks of life. Most important, patients randomized to PC lived longer, with a median overall survival of 11.6 months, compared with 8.9 months in the standard therapy arm.