Patients and families are often confused by the terms “hospice” and “palliative” care. “It’s a common misconception that palliative medicine is the same as hospice, but this is not the case,” says Brandy Ficek, MD, Medical Director of Quality of Life and Palliative Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America®(CTCA) in Goodyear, Arizona.
Hospice care, Dr. Ficek says, is “aimed at providing aggressive symptom management for patients who are no longer receiving treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.” Palliative care, on the other hand, while also focusing on symptom management, is ideally implemented at the time of diagnosis and is provided continuously alongside standard cancer treatments throughout a patient’s journey.
Depending on your unique needs, palliative care might include therapies (medicines or complementary modalities) to help control disease symptoms and side effects of treatment; these can include pain, nausea, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping or fatigue. The palliative team can include doctors, nurses, social workers, pastoral care providers and others who work in conjunction with the primary treatment providers. You can receive palliative care anywhere you are undergoing cancer treatment—whether at a treatment center, in an intensive care unit or at home.
Dr. Ficek says that, in addition to providing supportive care to help patients manage symptoms, the palliative care team can assist patients with clarifying their goals and expectations “to ensure that all treatments align with what is most important to the patient.” The team might also help with advanced care planning, which Dr. Ficek says is “important regardless of whether a patient enters hospice care or long-term survivorship.”