Cancer and Palliative Care

Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases that can begin almost anywhere in the body. It happens when normal cells in the body change and grow uncontrollably. These cells may form a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).

However, some cancers do not form solid tumors. These include leukemia, most types of lymphoma and myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside of bones). (see cancer.net for further background on cancer)

Cancer Symptoms and Treatment—How Palliative Care Can Help

Palliative care specialists work in close partnership with your oncologist (cancer specialist). Any person, of any age, with any type or stage of cancer can benefit from palliative care—and the earlier, the better.

Palliative care teams understand that both the disease itself—and the treatments for it—can cause suffering. Cancer symptoms might include pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anxiety, depression, constipation, diarrhea, confusion or shortness of breath. The palliative care team not only specializes in relieving the symptoms of cancer, but they can also help with other situations, such as feeling overwhelmed by complicated medical information, or confusion and worry about making important treatment decisions.

Palliative care specialists have both the time and the expertise to interpret the complex medical information you receive from your oncologist. They can help you understand what it all means − and what it all means for you.

The good news is that because palliative care teams specialize in dealing with the full range of cancer symptoms, they can ensure that you enjoy the best quality of life possible. They’ll help you figure out what information you need to make an appropriate treatment choice. They’ll help you sort out your immediate concerns—like worrying about how chemotherapy or radiation might make you feel, or what impact surgery may have, or if you’ll lose your hair, or what will happen if you end treatment. And they’ll help you with the bigger-picture things, like deciding what it is you value most in life or weighing the effects of a given treatment against those of the disease itself.

And, the best news is that, in a recent study, cancer patients receiving palliative care lived approximately three months longer than those who did not.

How to Get Palliative Care

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

Finding a hospital with a palliative care team in your area is easy. Just go to our Provider Directory of Hospitals. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.

To find additional emotional and practical support for your cancer, visit CancerCare at cancercare.org.