Harvard Men's Health Watch

Palliative care: Surprising benefits from an underused therapy

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, called on physicians to "cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always." With the limited tools available to the doctors of ancient Greece, it's no surprise that medical treatment succeeded in providing comfort more often than cure.

Little changed during most of the 2,400 years that have elapsed since the Greek era. But as medicine developed powerful new ways to diagnose and treat disease over the past century, cure has become the main goal of treatment. It's great progress, and the improvements are bound to accelerate in our age of modern molecular medicine.

As doctors and patients focus on cure, however, both groups risk losing sight of comfort, sometimes even assuming that cure and comfort are antithetical. In some cases, the result is needless suffering, which may be compounded by aggressive treatments that have little prospect of success.

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