Palliative Care

Palliative care has no standard treatment guidelines; rather, it is concerned with improving the quality of life for extremely ill patients and their families. it achieves this by providing care in the form of symptom relief and a wide range of psychosocial support. Palliative care is designed to extend from the time of diagnosis through the death of the patient and even part of the grieving period for the family. For the majority of the world's cancer patients—typically diagnosed when disease is advanced and unable to afford expensive new anti-cancer drugs—palliative care is the only cancer treatment they will receive. It is consequently the most frequently administered form of cancer treatment in the world.

What it's effective for and why

The great benefit of quality palliative care is not dependent on cutting-edge technologies or facilities; in fact, it can provide invaluable care and support even when resources are thin. In palliative care, the goal is neither to hasten death nor prolong life, and it is provided by a whole team of health care professionals, including doctors and nurses, social workers, nutritionists and when required, religious representatives. This team comes together to provide integrated palliative care.

Examples of palliative care include:

  • Providing pain management and relief of other physical or psychological symptoms;
  • Establishing support networks for both patient and family'
  • Offering grief counseling and/or spiritual guidance
  • Maintaining a realistic view of circumstances while also projecting a life-affirming attitude;

Because it is experienced across a spectrum of physical and psychological dimensions, the foundation for successful palliative care comes down to controlling pain. As patients near the end of their lives, they regard freedom from pain as being the most important factor affecting quality of life.

Contrary to popular perception, palliative care does not hasten death; in fact, it can often extend it, beyond what aggressive anti-cancer treatments can accomplish, and palliative care can do it without the side effects. For this reason among others, it is widely believed—but not widely practiced—that following a life-threatening diagnosis, palliative care should commence and function alongside therapies with curative potential.

Medicine and palliation

In an August 2010 issue of The New Yorker, writer Atul Gawande discusses the difference between medicine and palliation:

In ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life. We’ll sacrifice the quality of your existence now … for the chance of gaining time later. Hospice [and palliative care] deploys nurses, doctors, and social workers to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible lives right now. That means focusing on objectives like freedom from pain and discomfort, or maintaining mental awareness for as long as possible, or getting out with family once in a while. Hospice and palliative-care specialists aren’t much concerned about whether that makes people’s lives longer or shorter.

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