By Dr. Krithika Murugan, Surgical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Hospital Bengaluru
Palliative care is the range of symptom management services provided by the professionals like physicians, nursing, support workers, paramedics, and pharmacists. The palliative care team also includes nutritionists, psychologists, physiotherapists, and volunteers who help improve the quality of life of patients (adults and children) who are combating any form of life-threatening illnesses. It is a team approach for a wide range of diseases that improves the quality of life of patients who are vulnerable to chronic ailments as well as their caregivers. This includes addressing practical needs and providing bereavement counseling. It offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death. This process has a significant role to play when it comes to cancer treatments. As we know, cancer occurs when abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells interferes with the DNA of the cells at given factors like increasing age, exposure to certain radiations and chemicals, heredity, and unhealthy lifestyle habits like excessive smoking and alcohol consumption.
When cancer forms in the cells of the breasts, it is called breast cancer. The most common signs include a lump in the breast, bloody discharge from the nipple, and changes in the shape or texture of the nipple of the breast. Breast cancer typically has four stages – stage I to stage IV. When detected at the initial stage, breast cancer can be completely cured. The treatment depends on the stages of breast cancer and includes chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery. Unfortunately, for some, cancer fails to respond to any form of therapy, and the symptoms and the disease progress, commonly known to metastasize. In these situations, or when the patient and their family decide not to go ahead with any form of treatment considering the pros and cons of treatment, symptom management / palliative care may help in enhancing the quality of the remaining length of life for the patient.
Palliative care for breast cancer
Most often, breast cancer and its treatment lead to several physical symptoms and side effects along with emotional, social, and financial consequences. Palliative care aims to manage all these consequences with a focus on dealing with the symptoms and supporting the patient and the family with other non-medical needs. Palliative care can be given to all patients of breast cancer, irrespective of the stage of cancer but most often, delivered to the patients of the last stage of breast cancer. Those receiving palliative care have less severe symptoms and improved quality of life. The process also helps the patient and other people related to them to plan for the finances, not just whilst they are alive but also once they are gone, and enable families to find closure to their not-so-easy long-term caregiving roles.
Benefits of palliative care
It enhances one’s comfort: Breast cancer treatment is a comprehensive one and is often painful and uncomfortable with severe side effects. The palliative care team addresses the needs of the patients and helps them remain stronger to be able to take the treatment successfully. Palliative care offers comfort physically, socially, and spiritually.
It plays a crucial role in stress management: Palliative care not only helps in meeting the physical health needs during a critical treatment like that of breast cancer but also helps in meeting the mental health requirements. Palliative care ensures overall care for mental health and helps in stress, anxiety, and panic management not just among patients but also among family members and caregivers. It puts the caregivers at ease as well and enhances their quality of life besides improving the quality of life for the patients.
It enables a patient to live longer and live healthier: Palliative care treatment enhances the quality of life and helps patients to live longer. In addition to palliative care, doctors offer several other therapies including delivery of antineoplastic treatment through hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and biological therapies to reduce breast cancer pain and offer relief to some extent, and help patients to live longer.
Kinds of palliative care
A breast cancer patient can be offered two kinds of palliative care.
Oncologist-based palliative care: The oncologist plays the lead role in this model of palliative care and offers both cancer treatment and palliative care. The relationship between the patient and the cancer doctor is essential to be smooth for the optimal delivery of palliative care in this model.
Concurrent model: In such models of palliative care, the care is given by both oncologist and a palliative medicine specialist. The palliative care expert works with cancer doctors and delivers care based on one’s specific needs and potential issues one may face during the treatment.
Living with breast cancer
As you go through the treatment of breast cancer, there are several ways by which one can tackle the condition and live well with breast cancer.
Some of these include:
- Having adequate sleep
- Doing regular exercise to fight fatigue
- Eating light meals to feel good and beat nausea
- Utilising energy on good energy days and doing something that one loves
- Keeping a journal and writing down daily thoughts may help in managing breast cancer-induced stress, anxiety, and pain on a daily basis.
Palliative care plays a significant role in breast cancer treatment and helps to improve the quality of life of patients as well as caregivers. Advances in technology paves way for digitized palliative care which could transform breast cancer treatment. To get more information on breast cancer palliative care, you can reach out to efficient palliative care cancer specialists.