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Does Lung Cancer Stage Influence Palliative Care Decisions?

Palliative care can be helpful for people at any stage and type of cancer. However, research shows there is a lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits of palliative care among both doctors and people with cancer.

Comparing advanced versus early stage

In our 4th Annual Lung Cancer In America survey, we explored the role of palliative care in people living with lung cancer. Results from the survey show that most respondents living with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) have not used or discussed palliative care with their doctors. In fact, only 14 percent of respondents have discussed palliative care with their doctors, while only 15 percent have used palliative care as part of their treatment.

Our survey also found that people living with more advanced lung cancers were more likely to discuss palliative care with their doctor or use it during treatment compared to early stage patients.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life. It looks at the whole person, rather than at treating or curing their disease. The goal is to improve or prevent negative side effects of the disease by focusing on physical, mental, and emotional well-being.1

Many drugs used to treat cancer can cause physical side effects. Palliative care offers options that may improve those symptoms. Those living with cancer may also have emotional or spiritual needs that palliative care can address. It even includes support and resources for caregivers.1

Who offers palliative care?

Palliative care specialists are healthcare workers who have received special training. They work with your team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers to figure out what is best for you. They can help you choose the treatment options that are right for you. You can receive palliative care in the hospital, in an outpatient clinic, a long-term care facility, or at home.1

When can you receive palliative care?

Palliative care is often confused for hospice care. While hospice care also focuses on quality of life, it usually begins when treatment is no longer working. It is designed to offer dignified and peaceful treatment at the end of life.1

On the other hand, palliative care can start at any point after your diagnosis. You do not need to stop your cancer treatment to get palliative care. You can receive both together.2

What are the benefits of palliative care?

Historically, palliative care has been offered during the late stages of cancer. It was mostly offered to those who were hospitalized or were seriously struggling with their symptoms. However, palliative care was not as effective as it could be when it was offered so late. Research shows that to be meaningful, palliative needs to be offered earlier.3

A 2010 study showed that starting palliative care early for those living with metastatic NSCLC significantly improved their quality of life and mood. They also lived longer even though they were given less aggressive cancer treatments near the end of their lives. Researchers found that early palliative care improved quality of life as much as effective chemotherapy.3

Researchers also found that those receiving palliative care were more likely to have discussed their wishes with their doctor. When your treatment team knows what is important to you, they can help you make decisions that match your wishes.3

Palliative care has been shown to improve quality of life for caregivers as well. It may also reduce healthcare costs. Overall, offering palliative care early in treatment can improve quality of life, increase survival, and prevent aggressive treatment near the end of life.4

If you would like to see if palliative care is right for you or for a family member, talk to your doctor about available options.

The 4th Annual Lung Cancer In America survey was held online from January through June 2020. The survey was completed by 804 people.

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