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The Importance of Palliative Care for the Oncology Patient

The Spring 2015 issue of Clinical Connections, a publication of Hospice of the Western Reserve, features a special focus on cancer care. Dr. Katherine Eilenfeld of Westshore Primary Care shares her perspective on the importance of palliative care for oncology patients in the article on the front page. Read the full article below.

Image of Dr. Katherine Eilenfeld, DO of Westshore Primary Care in Westlake, Ohio

The Importance of Palliative Care for the Oncology Patient

The diagnosis of cancer is arguably one of the most difficult pieces of information our patients will ever receive. They hear the dreaded C-word and simply shut down. It is at these moments that their physicians have the distinct opportunity to guide the future of their patients’ care in a significant way.

Cancer and its treatments can cause a variety of unwelcome symptoms and side effects. National organizations that specialize in cancer care are recognizing the importance of addressing these issues head-on. The idea of aggressively managing patient symptoms during the pursuit of cure is not a new one, but has undergone a transformation in the last decade. Palliative care – sometimes now referred to as supportive care – is aimed at relieving these symptoms and side effects.

But it’s not all about prescriptions. Palliative care focuses on the whole person and aims at supporting patients on an emotional, physical, social and spiritual level from the time of diagnosis, through treatments, and beyond.

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What is Palliative Care?

Caring for loved ones with a serious or long-term illness is stressful. Spending time agonizing over decisions and trying to determine what the best course is for treatment can be daunting even for those who have been through it before.  

Patients and families who want more control of their health care, or the health care of a loved one, have turned to palliative care. You can get palliative care at the same time as treatment for the disease so that you can live your life as well as possible. 


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What is Palliative Care?

Think of palliative care as a team approach to caring for someone with a chronic illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for the patient and family while focusing on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness. 

I often talk about palliative care as having two arms: one is addressing goals of medical care and treatments and the other is aggressively trying to manage symptoms. Neither of these should prevent a person from continuing active treatment or pursuing a cure (if possible) of their disease. 

Palliative care is intended to better educate patients on the course and progression of their disease, to help their medical team better understand the patients’ goals and priorities, and to do all this while improving the patients’ everyday life and controlling symptoms.

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