Doctors who treat people diagnosed with lung cancer and mesothelioma have a lot to discuss with their patients. One of the most important conversations they often have involves how to tackle treatment, which often leads to the following questions: Will surgery remove enough diseased tissue? Are the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy too much? Is the patient strong enough to live independently?
Aside from killing off as much of the malignancy as possible, the goal of cancer treatment is to make sure the patient is comfortable and able to manage pain. To do that, doctors and patients may have to discuss whether to initiate palliative or hospice care.
But which one is right for you and your family? Here’s what you need to know about these two different routes.
The aim is comfort
Palliative treatment is different from other strategies because it’s not designed to cure a patient’s disease. Instead, it’s intended to relieve symptoms of the disease or treatment that can seriously hurt a patient’s quality of life. This includes nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression and – perhaps most importantly – pain.
Palliative care goes beyond treating the physical side of patients. Clinicians who specialize in palliative care also see to it that patients are emotionally, mentally and spiritually supported. This may include discussions about fear, insurance coverage or religious beliefs.
Ultimately, palliative care can lessen the impact that a disease has on quality of life and help ensure that patients are as comfortable as possible. This may even help them live longer.
Cancer patients aren’t the only ones who can benefit from palliative care. Their friends and family members can also receive emotional and social support.
So what about hospice care? Yes, this plan also aims to keep patients comfortable. However, hospice care doesn’t work alongside treatments intended to cure a person’s disease. Instead, hospice is typically reserved for when doctors don’t expect patients to live much longer, and the goal is to make sure that the final days are as positive and peaceful as possible.
What are the other differences between palliative and hospice care?
Although both palliative care and hospice care have comfort as their goal, the similarities pretty much stop there.
Palliative care is administered by multidisciplinary health teams that include doctors, nurses, caregivers and other professionals. Patients can receive treatment in their own homes, hospitals, nursing homes or outpatient facilities and can work in conjunction with curative treatment. Services can be billed separately under an individual’s health plan.
Hospice care is overseen by professionals who specialize in the field, as well as family caregivers. There are facilities that are dedicated to hospice, but usually, this type of care is offered in patients’ own homes. Treatment usually doesn’t start until doctors consider patients terminal or within six months of the end of life. These services may be billed as one item, but that can depend on individual health plans. Medicare covers many hospice programs.
So how do you know which one is right for you and your loved ones? Well, that depends on what your overall goal is. If you want to fight for a longer lifespan, you should opt for palliative treatment that can be administered alongside chemotherapy, radiation or other therapies. Of course, you’ll have to talk to your doctors and loved ones about side effects and financial considerations.
If you decide that you’d rather invest your energy in living comfortably and spending quality time with loved ones rather than battling the disease, hospice may be the better option.
Either way, you should remember that you’re not alone in your fight. With the right medical team by your side, you can take on any physical, emotional or spiritual challenge you deem worthy of the effort.