Supportive Oncology care is care for adults and children with serious illness that focuses on relieving suffering and improving quality of life for patients and their families, but is not intended to cure the disease itself. It provides patients of any age or disease stage with relief from symptoms, pain, and stress, and should be provided along with curative treatment.
While palliative care may be delivered by oncology doctors and nurses, they may ask for the help of a specialized team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with them to provide an extra layer of support addressing the patients’ needs and helping patients and their families have a voice in realizing their treatment goals.
Palliative care is also called supportive care. It’s aimed at relieving suffering and improving quality of life. It’s designed to help people live as well as they can for as long as they can, even though they have a serious illness.
Palliative care focuses on helping people get relief from symptoms caused by serious illness – things like nausea, pain, fatigue, or shortness of breath. Palliative care looks to help with emotional and spiritual problems, too. It’s treatment of the symptoms – it’s not expected to cure any serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. In the past, the term palliative care was mainly used to describe the act of promoting comfort when aggressive treatment was no longer working – the care given at the end of life. (For more on care when cancer treatment is no longer working, see Hospice Care.)
No matter what it’s called, palliative or supportive care has long been recognized as an important part of cancer treatment. For decades it was simply considered to be part of cancer treatment. But more recently, it’s getting much more attention and study. It has grown into a specialized field of knowledge as well as being a standard part of care given by doctors and cancer care teams.
Palliative or supportive care is given throughout the cancer experience, whenever the person is having symptoms that need to be controlled. This can be from the time of diagnosis until the end of life. It’s appropriate at any age and at any stage in any serious illness.
Palliative or supportive care is also about giving patients options and having them take part in decisions about their care. It’s about assuring that all their care needs are addressed – their physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs.