Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness, including cancer. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and their loved ones.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and other specialists (e.g., massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, chaplains) who work together with other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can have it along with curative treatment. Palliative care controls symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and depression. It also helps you gain the strength to carry on with daily life. It improves the ability to tolerate medical treatments. And it helps you have more control over your care by improving communication so that you can better understand treatment options.

Talking to Your Doctor About Palliative Care

Your doctor can guide you in making a decision about whether palliative care is right for you. Here are a few things you should discuss with your doctor:

  • How do I know if I need palliative care?
  • What palliative services are in my area?
  • Where would I receive my care (in a hospital, home, nursing home or hospice)?
  • How can palliative care benefit me?
  • What does quality of life mean to me? This can include spending time with loved ones, making your own decisions on treatment options or whether you want to be treated at a home or hospital.
  • Does palliative care align with my values? Let your doctor know of any personal, religious or cultural beliefs, values or practices that are important to you.