Palliative Care for Cancer Patients Prolongs Life, Study Finds

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , August 20, 2010

"There's an inaccurate perception among the American public that hospice means you've given up," said J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. "Those of us who have worked in the field have seen firsthand how hospice and palliative care can improve the quality of and indeed prolong the lives of people receiving care."

Those randomized to the early palliative care group met with members of a palliative care team, which included board-certified palliative care physicians and advanced-practice nurses at least monthly in the outpatient setting until they died. Patients, at their own discretion, or that of the oncologist or palliative care provider could have additional visits with the palliative care service.

The patients received special attention to their physical and psychosocial needs and were assisted with decisions regarding treatment and coordinated care.

Patients who received standard care were not scheduled to meet with the palliative care service unless the patient, family member, or oncologist specifically requested it. 

Patients in both groups continued to be treated by an oncologist throughout the study period.

Writing in an accompanying editorial,  Amy S. Kelley MD and Diane E Meier, MD of the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, called Temel's study an important step in confirming the beneficial outcomes of a simultaneous care model that provides both palliative care and disease-specific therapies beginning at the time of diagnosis."

They said it "shifts a long-held paradigm."

"Perhaps unsurprisingly, reducing patients' misery may help them live longer. We now have both the means and the knowledge to make palliative care an essential and routine component of evidence-based, high-quality care for the management of serious illness."

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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