Living with Colorectal Cancer: How Palliative Care Can Help
By Andrew Esch, MD
If you have colorectal cancer, you know that your pain, symptoms, and the side effects of treatments can take a toll on your quality of life. Therefore, they can stop you from doing the things that are important to you. They can also lead to unwanted hospital stays. But palliative care can help.
Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with serious illnesses, like colorectal cancer. This type of care focuses on relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
In fact, the main organization representing cancer doctors, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), recommends that you should receive palliative care early in the disease and along with treatment for the cancer itself.
Palliative Care Helps During Treatment
Treatments for colon cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The disease and its treatments can cause pain and other distressing symptoms such as blockages in the intestine, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, nerve pain and fatigue. Palliative care can help you find relief so that you can keep up with your treatments and get back to the things you enjoy.
In addition to treating your pain and other symptoms, your palliative care team can work with you to make changes to your diet, nutrition and fluids to help prevent intestinal blockages and other intestinal symptoms. This can help you stay out of the hospital.
Your palliative care team will also work with you and your other doctors to make sure that your treatment plan matches your goals. They will take the time to get to know you and understand what is important to you. Your palliative care team will also help you weigh the pros and cons of your options, and they will coordinate with all the different doctors involved in your care.
Palliative Care Helps After Treatment
Even after successful treatment, it’s normal to struggle with anxiety and depression, as well as with the effects of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Listen to this podcast to hear how palliative care helped one patient with colon cancer regain control – from cancer symptoms and stress to treatment decisions and family needs.
How to Get Palliative Care
Palliative care is available in most hospitals and is growing quickly in outpatient clinics. In some areas, home visits are available. You can search for palliative care by visiting this Provider Directory.
If you are living with colon cancer, I encourage you to ask your doctor for a referral to palliative care – the earlier the better. To learn more about palliative care, read this list of frequently asked questions, and see tips on how to ask for a referral.
Dr. Esch is medical education consultant to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. A palliative care specialist, Dr. Esch focuses on improving quality of life for patients and their families as they face serious illness. Dr. Esch earned his medical degree from the University of Buffalo.