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Palliative cancer care

Palliative care to improve the quality of life of patients and their families with serious or life-threatening illness.

Palliative care for an elderly cancer patient
Palliative care is an area of healthcare that aims to improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with serious or life-threatening illness.

Palliative care clinicians look after patients with many different conditions, including cancer and non cancer diagnoses, such as chronic lung conditions, heart failure, long term neurological conditions and renal failure.

Palliative cancer care may be appropriate for patients during any stage of their illness. This may include those undergoing potentially curative treatment and those living with chronic diseases, or patients who are nearing the end of life.

The aims of palliative care are to address the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social concerns that arise with advanced illness. This can help to relieve the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness — whatever the prognosis.

The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work alongside your main consultant to provide an extra layer of support.

Specialist Palliative Cancer Care Clinicians are highly experienced in providing:

  • Relief from pain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath and other distressing symptoms
  • Psychological support
  • Support systems to help patients lead as active and fulfilling a life as is possible
  • Support systems to help the family cope
  • A team approach to address the needs of patients and their families
  • Measures to enhance quality of life
  • Care early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Pain and symptom management

A wide range of medications are used to control the symptoms that palliative care patients experience. Often, medications used for palliative patients are used differently than standard medications. Their use is based on established palliative medicine practices. Examples include the use of anticonvulsants to treat pain, morphine to treat breathlessness and antipsychotic medications to treat nausea. Routes of administration may differ from acute or chronic care, as many patients lose the ability to swallow. A common alternative route of administration is subcutaneous, as it is less traumatic and less difficult to maintain than intravenous medications. Other routes of administration include sublingual, subcutaneous and transdermal. Medications are often managed at home by family or nursing support.

Support and advance care planning

Patients and their families sometimes experience some emotional distress. Our consultants and specialist nurses are trained to discuss these issues with the patient and their families and help them to make choices about their future care and wishes.

Arranging a consultation

You can make an out-patient appointment directly with one of the consultants at your local Circle Health hospital or, if you prefer, you can ask your GP to refer you (this will be necessary if you have private medical insurance).

You will benefit from:

  • Initial consultation with a specialist palliative care consultant for a full assessment of your condition and symptoms
  • Review of your current medication
  • Personalised treatment plan
  • Fast access and referral on to other specialist consultants to help with your treatment and care
  • Re-assessment consultation with your specialist palliative medicine consultant

The palliative medicine consultant will review your current list of medication and make suggestions to you and your GP as to the best choices for managing your symptoms.

In-patients may also be referred to the palliative care team by the consultant managing their care and the palliative medicine consultant will come and see them on the ward.

We also have a team of extremely experienced clinical nurse specialists in palliative care who are available to support patients and their families and provide a vital communication link between the hospital services and your general practitioner and community healthcare teams.

For further information or to book a consultation or treatment, please get in touch with our cancer enquiries team: Call us on 0800 157 7747

Content reviewed: October 2014

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