Breast Cancer and Palliative Care

A diagnosis of breast cancer is scary. Suddenly you may have to have surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. You may also need to make health care decisions that involve both you and your family. And you may experience pain or other symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and anxiety. Things can feel overwhelming.

Breast Cancer Symptoms and Treatment—How Palliative Care Can Help

Breast cancer patients often have to choose from among different treatment options, which can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But treatments have a variety of side effects, such as pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression and constipation. This is where palliative care comes in.

Palliative medicine, or palliative care, is specialized medical care focused on relief of the pain, symptoms and stress of a serious illness such as breast cancer. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in your illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

The oncologist, surgeon and radiation doctors are experts at treating breast cancer. But the disease is only a part of what patients struggle with. When palliative care teams work in partnership with cancer specialists, people living with breast cancer experience reduced symptoms, better communication and psychological and spiritual care; they also have someone to help them plan for the future. Once symptoms are controlled, patients can get back to daily activities.

People with breast cancer may worry about how to talk to family and friends about the illness. They may also have questions and concerns about treatment choices. Palliative care teams are highly skilled in communicating with patients and their families and can be very important in helping everyone involved match their goals with their treatment options. They will also help you navigate the health care system and anticipate future issues that may arise.

Members of the palliative care team are also there for you to talk to about depression, anxiety and worries about body image and sexuality. (Even though breast cancer is mainly a female disease, men, too, can have it and suffer emotionally as well.) Palliative care teams provide support not only for patients but also for their families, who also experience distress in the face of the illness. Feeling supported by palliative care specialists, family members are more able to support to their loved ones.

Palliative care can take place in the hospital, in an office or clinic and sometimes at home.  It will improve the quality of life of anyone living with breast cancer.

If you or a loved one needs palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral.

Finding palliative care in your area is easy. Just go to our Palliative Care Provider Directory for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.

Podcast: Cathy’s Breast Cancer Story

How to Get Palliative Care