What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care simply means care for patients or persons with terminal illness or life-limiting illness or when there is no cure for the illness or disease. Palliative care is an approach that focus on patients as individuals and one that improves the quality of life of patients and their families. This is carried out through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

For cancer patients

Cancer diagnosis may affect patients in many ways including biologically, psychologically and socially. The efforts of palliative care are to attend to patients’ and their families’ needs during these difficult times.

The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat, as early as possible, the symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment. The goal is not to cure. Palliative care is also called comfort care, supportive care, and symptom management.

Cancer patients who are referred to palliative care does not mean that the primary physician has “given up” on the patient, but rather wants an additional support service to enhance active oncological intervention. Patients can be referred at any stage of their cancer illness and active surgical. Chemotherapy and radiation can be continued as usual while receiving treatment from the palliative care team.

Palliative care helps with symptoms management at early stages of cancer, or during active oncological treatment such as post-operative procedure pain, intractable nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy or neuropathic pain following radiotherapy.

Palliative care is not limited to patients, as family members can also receive palliative care. Family members are an important part of cancer care, and, like the patient, they have a number of evolving needs. It’s common for family members to become overwhelmed by the extra responsibilities placed upon them. Many find it difficult to care for a relative who is ill while trying to handle other obligations, such as work and caring for other family members. Other issues can add to the stress, including uncertainty on how to help their loved one, inadequate social support, and emotions such as worry and fear. These challenges can compromise their own health. Palliative care can help families and friends cope with these issues and give them the support they need.

In addition to these, palliative care also aids with placement, care for post-hospital discharge, terminal discharges, referral to community hospices, (if required) and in obtaining equipment, such as oxygen concentrator, suction machine, etc.

Duration of palliative care

There is no time limit if it is a life limiting illness but care may be reviewed on a need basis if patient’s prognosis is more than 6 months or 12 months.

Palliative care and hospice

In the Malaysian context, palliative care and hospice care are almost the similar in concept. Palliative care is often referred to care given to a patient at any stage of his/her illness often in the setting of outpatient/inpatient or community care. Hospice care often concentrates on the last 6 months of patient’s life and up to 12-month post-death (bereavement period) for the family members.