Palliative Care Comes Too Late for Many

Nearly half of surviving cancer relatives wish hospice care had started earlier

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THURSDAY, Feb. 24, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- For too many cancer patients, pain-relieving palliative care comes too late to greatly improve their quality of life, according to a new study from Japan.

Palliative care treats the physical, spiritual, psychological and social needs of a person with cancer, both during cancer treatment and at the end of life.

A survey of 318 Japanese who lost relatives to cancer found that almost half felt that the palliative care was provided either "late" or "very late" in the course of the illness.

Families who reported late or very late referrals to palliative care were also less likely to report having had discussions with physicians about end-of-life care.

"Earlier referrals to palliative care are essential to alleviate suffering and improve treatment outcomes and quality of life for people with cancer," lead author Dr. Tatsuya Morita of Seirei Hospice, in Shizuoka, said in a prepared statement. "Patients and their families should feel comfortable discussing end-of-life care with their physicians and each other, so that palliative care services can be given at the most appropriate moment for the patient."

In an accompanying editorial to the study, published Feb. 22 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Betty Ferrell, a research scientist at the City of Hope National Medical Center, in Duarte, Calif., said the findings have implications for patients in every country.

"This study supports closer collaboration between oncologists and palliative care specialists, rather than simply a swift transfer from one provider to the other as the patient's condition declines," she said in a prepared statement.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about palliative care.

SOURCES: Journal of Clinical Oncology, news release, Feb. 22, 2005

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