Medical bills. Treatment side effects. Symptoms. Many people are familiar with these “costs” of cancer treatment. But what about the other costs? Emotional, social, and practical challenges, as well as caregiver stress also come along with a cancer diagnosis and are different for each person.
Palliative care is designed to address these challenges and help patients and caregivers manage them. This is why ASCO recommends palliative care along with cancer treatment early on for people with cancer that has spread or has many side effects.
A study to be presented at this week’s Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium, demonstrates how patients benefit when oncologists and palliative care specialists work together. Researchers evaluated a new approach at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York that pairs radiation oncologists with specialists in palliative care. With this new approach, radiation therapy treatments became shorter while remaining equally effective at controlling patients’ level of pain, allowing patients more time at home and away from the hospital.
Although palliative care has many benefits for patients and caregivers, not every patient with advanced cancer is able to see a palliative care specialist. To improve the palliative care services available to patients, ASCO and the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine will release a statement at the symposium that defines the types of palliative care services that medical oncology practices should offer in order to provide high-quality palliative care.
The statement recommends three key components of palliative care:
Symptom assessment and management
Communication and shared decision-making
Advanced cancer care planning
“Oncologists can and already do provide many palliative services, but until now, no comprehensive guidance existed on what practices should be aiming for,” said lead author Kathleen Bickel, MD, MPhil, an assistant professor of medicine at the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. “For the first time, we’ve set some reasonable and achievable goals (for high-quality primary palliative care delivery) for oncology practices in the everyday care of patients, which we hope will improve patient comfort and quality of life.”