Whether or not palliative care is right for you is a very personal decision. It's one best made after talking with your physician and exploring all available options for your treatment.
Physicians will be looking for the following when considering palliative care for a patient:
- Does the patient have cancer or other serious illness that causes distressing symptoms?
- Is he/she expected to have a shortened life expectancy (six months or less if considering hospice care)?
- Are there other serious medical problems that complicate the disease?
- Has the patient or family requested palliative care?
A "yes" to any of the above questions indicates that palliative care may be right for you.
Palliative Care Life Expectancy
It is usually very difficult to predict an exact amount of time a person is expected to live with a life-threatening illness. Doctors do their best to make as accurate a prediction as possible but because each individual is so different, their disease will run its own unique course. Patients can continue to receive palliative care as long as needed to manage symptoms and research has shown that patients who receive palliative care may live longer than those who do not.
Hospice care is a very specific type of palliative care that is appropriate for patients with a life expectancy of six month or less. Doctors do their best to predict when patients need hospice care but often refer patients very late in their illness.
Questions for Your Doctor
There may be additional information you will need from the doctor before you can make your decision. You might want to ask the following:
- What benefits would we receive from palliative care that we wouldn’t get otherwise?
- What, if anything, would we lose by choosing palliative care?
- Would my loved continue with all curative treatment if we elect palliative care?
Questions to Ask Yourself
Now that you are equipped with more information from your doctor, you need to ask yourself four important questions.
- Do the benefits of aggressive curative therapy outweigh the risks? Am I willing to face the risks and continue with it?
- What is most important to me and what do I hope to achieve with any type of treatment?
- If you are making the decision for someone else: Does my loved one have an Advanced Healthcare Directive, and if so, what does it state regarding his/her wishes?
- What kinds of support do I have in place to assist me with care and do I have resources to obtain more support if needed?
Find more answers to your palliative care questions
Jennifer S. Temel, M.D., et al. "Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer" New England Journal of Medicine. N Engl J Med 2010; 363:733-742.
Phillip D. Good, John Cavenagh, Peter J. Ravenscroft. "Survival after enrollment in an Australian palliative care program". Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 2004;27:4 Pages 310-315.