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Palliative care focuses on the whole person and the relief of symptoms, such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, depression, and difficulty sleeping. It can help patients carry on with daily life, including tolerating medical treatments. Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of an illness and can be provided at the same time as cancer treatment.
Results from a recent study highlighted the importance of palliative care in treating patients with lung cancer. Patients who received palliative care at the time of diagnosis had a better quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression than those who received standard of care. In addition, despite the fact that fewer of the patients in the palliative care group received aggressive end of life care, they lived nearly three months longer than those in the standard care group. The American Society of Clinical Oncology now recommends that lung cancer patients receive palliative care along with their usual oncology care as soon as they are diagnosed.
Palliative care for lung cancer patients
At Johns Hopkins, palliative care plays a key role in the treatment of lung cancer. While it has always been an important part of end-of-life care, evidence now suggests that palliative care should play a role in treatment from the time of diagnosis. Palliative care for lung cancer patients includes:
- Medical treatment to alleviate pain or improve quality of life. In the case of lung cancer patients, this may include procedures such as decortication (removal of the lining around the lung), PleurX placement (a small drain to release fluid from around the lung), and pleurodesis (removing fluid around the lung) as well as pain medication and management. Advanced techniques include lung stents to help air flow, and many localized radiation techniques.
- Spiritual and emotional support. At Johns Hopkins, the team of palliative care experts includes a social worker and chaplain. A psychologist is available for individual consultation.
- Decision-making support. Whether undergoing treatment to cure cancer or facing the end of life, all cancer patients and their families have to make difficult decisions about treatment, life choices, and care. The palliative care specialists at Johns Hopkins can help patients and their families with those decisions. There are excellent decision aids to help patients understand adjuvant treatment (after surgery) or metastatic disease treatment.
- Life management. Undergoing cancer treatment also means taking care of a host of tasks and responsibilities, from financial management and insurance coverage to child care and transportation. The team at Johns Hopkins can point patients to programs and professionals who can help.
The palliative care center at the Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center offers comprehensive treatment and support for all cancer patients, including those undergoing treatment for lung cancer.