If you're caring for an aging parent or another seriously ill friend or relative, you may have heard about a term that is still relatively new in this country: palliative care. It means that a gravely ill patient is made as comfortable as possible. The patient may continue to receive treatment but the medical team – which may consist of doctors, nurses, social workers, and nutritionists – also focuses on controlling pain as well as treating common side effects like nausea. The goal is to improve the patient's quality of life.
The concept of palliative care got a big boost from a study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that lung cancer patients who began palliative care soon after their diagnosis along with the usual treatment lived nearly three months longer than patients given only standard cancer care although the patients without palliative care had more chemotherapy. That may not seem like a lot of extra time, but lung cancer patients generally live less than a year after their diagnosis.
The study followed 151 patients who had recently been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. More than half of those who only received standard care had chemotherapy in the last two weeks of their life, compared to only a third of the patients who also received palliative care. The palliative care group lived more than 11 months versus fewer than nine months for the others. Just as important, the palliative care group had better quality of life and were less than half as likely to suffer from depression.
Do you know someone who has had palliative care? Was it helpful?