Palliative Care in the New Age of Oncology Therapies

Betty R. Ferrell, PhD, RN


June 28, 2018

Responding to Heidi

In this case, the nurse's most appropriate response is to encourage Heidi to keep her appointment with palliative care now. Avoiding Heidi's palliative care needs—including symptom management and quality of life—will become a barrier to adhering to a potentially beneficial new treatment. Nor is it appropriate to wait; palliative care is most successful if initiated as early as possible in the course of disease. And in this case, it would be inappropriate to ask the palliative care team to address only Heidi's physical symptoms. Heidi will benefit from the full range of palliative care services that provide physical, psychosocial, and spiritual support as she faces a serious illness and uncertain future.

The Role of Palliative Care in Oncology Today

Significant advances in cancer care have occurred as a result of genetic testing and improved treatment options, including targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and oral agents. These treatments are extending survival in late-stage disease, often from months to years.

Although there is new optimism for diseases that traditionally carried a poor prognosis, recognition is growing of the importance of integrating palliative care in parallel with these new therapies.[1,2,3,4] Palliative care addresses not only the symptoms of the advanced disease but also the side effects (eg, skin changes, gastrointestinal symptoms). Palliative care can help Heidi make decisions about treatment options, prepare an advance directive, and face her psychological and spiritual responses to a serious illness. In fact, patients in general who undergo emerging cancer treatments can benefit from a combined management approach that incorporates early palliative care.


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