What is palliative care?

palliative careWhat’s in a name? The term palliative care is confusing to many. Oftentimes people associate it with end-of-life care, or hospice care. A poll taken in 2011 revealed that more than 75% of the public lacked knowledge regarding this service.

Although hospice and palliative care overlap in their goals of reducing suffering and providing comfort, the main difference is hospice care is typically for patients who are terminal, or within six months of death, and palliative medicine can be received at any time, whether terminal or not.

Individuals in hospice have chosen to end curative or aggressive treatment, and focus on comfort measures and the dying process. Palliative care patients are often in the midst of active treatment, but need care for distressing side effects from treatment or disease.

Sometimes a referral to palliative care can cause fear in patients and their families because of misconceptions regarding the term. Because of this, some cancer centers have chosen to change the name of their palliative care program to “Supportive Care” as it provides a better representation of what palliative care does. Here at the University of Michigan, the name was changed to Symptom Management & Supportive Care Program.

These are some of the things that a Palliative/Supportive Care Program can offer:

  • Provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms such as anemia or side effects from treatment
  • Address nutritional, physical and occupational therapy needs
  • Use a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families
  • Enhance quality of life
  • Used early in treatment in conjunction with other therapies like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Doesn’t replace your current physician, but works with your physician to add another layer of support
  • Addresses caregiver stress and needs
  • Psychological counseling
  • Improve communication and care coordination with other services
  • Assists with practical issues such as transportation, assistance with co-pays and employment

The important message is that palliative care can be given at any stage of serious illness, whether in active treatment or end-of-life. Palliative care is an integral part of cancer care. Research supports that these programs improve quality-of-life so patients and their families can function more independently. If you or a loved one is dealing with troubling symptoms from disease or treatment, consider talking with your physician about a referral to a Palliative/Supportive Care Program.

Take the next step:

  • Find out about clinical trials for supportive and palliative care from the National Cancer Institute.
  • Learn more about the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Symptom Management & Supportive Care Program.
  • Visit the University of Michigan Health System’s Palliative Care Services page to learn more about these services in all our hospitals and clinics.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

Continue reading about symptom management and palliative care:

KimZThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.