What is palliative care?
Palliative care is a kind of care for people who have a serious illness. It's different from care to cure your illness, called curative treatment. Palliative care provides an extra layer of support that can improve your quality of life—not just in your body, but also in your mind and spirit. Sometimes palliative care is combined with curative treatment.
The kind of care you get depends on what you need. Your goals guide your care. You can get both palliative care and care to treat your illness at the same time. You don't have to choose one or the other.
Palliative care can help you manage symptoms, pain, or side effects from treatment. It may help you and those close to you better understand your illness, talk more openly about your feelings, or decide what treatment you want or don't want. It can also help you communicate better with your doctors, nurses, family, and friends.
Some treatments can be curative or palliative. For example, radiation is often a curative treatment for cancer. But it can also be used to help control cancer pain. When it is used to control pain and not to get rid of cancer, it is called palliative radiation.
If curative treatment is no longer working, a palliative care provider can help you decide if you want to keep trying that treatment. When the time is right, your palliative care provider may talk to you about hospice care. This is care for people who are in their final weeks or months of life.
Who is involved in palliative care?
There are doctors and nurses who specialize in palliative care. But your own doctor may also give some of this care. And there are many other experts who may help you. These include social workers, counselors, occupational and physical therapists, and registered dietitians.
What questions might you ask a palliative care provider?
Palliative care works best with open communication. If you don't understand what is being said, ask questions until you do. You may want to write down your questions before your appointment or bring a family member or friend with you.
Important questions to ask include:
- What is my diagnosis?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the side effects of these treatments?
- What do you think will happen if I choose not to treat my illness?
- How long do you think I have to live?
- How soon do I need to make a decision about which treatment to use (or not use)?
- How will my illness and care affect my family and friends?