Most of us think of palliative care as the kind of treatment reserved for the very end of life, when other medical options have been exhausted. But now a study out of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre finds that giving patients with advanced cancer earlier access to palliative care improves their quality of life and their satisfaction with the care they are getting.
The researchers randomly assigned 24 cancer clinics to offer regular care or early access to palliative care.. Clinics in the regular care arm of the trial would have either not offered palliative care at all, or provided a referral in the last two months of life.
The 461 patients in the study to evaluated their care and quality of life using questionnaires. Assessments at three months found few real differences between the two groups, but by four months those who had early access to palliative care scored higher for quality of life, symptom control and satisfaction with their care.
Lead researcher Dr. Camilla Zimmermann, head of the palliative care program at Princess Margaret Hospital, says there is a misconception about what palliative care is, that people fear the word itself and that’s why some are reluctant to take the help palliative care teams offer earlier in their cancer journey.
That’s why some palliative care teams have started to call the service they offer supportive care. They collaborate with oncology teams to try to help patients through difficult treatments and the progression of their illness. That can mean continually adjusting pain medication or providing access to home care, as well as attending to the family’s needs.
Bottom line, the aim of palliative care is prolonging life and improving quality of life.