Harvard Health Letter

Palliative care: Sooner may be better

Palliative care, which aims to improve a person's quality of life during a serious illness, may also result in prolonging life in certain cases. Findings from a study conducted at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital that were reported in the summer of 2010 made a bigger splash. The study included 151 people with advanced cases (stage IV) of lung cancer that had spread (metastasized) outside their lungs, although they were still being treated on an outpatient basis. Soon after the patients were diagnosed with metastatic cancer, the researchers randomized them to receive either standard care for their cancer or palliative care in addition to standard care. Patients in the palliative care group met with specially trained doctors and nurses an average of four times. Compared with the patients who received standard care, those in the early palliative program reported fewer depressive symptoms and scored higher on questionnaires designed to measure quality of life. And the early introduction of palliative care was also associated with less aggressive treatment (less chemotherapy, more time in hospice) shortly before people died. But the result that stood out was that receiving palliative care seemed to help patients live about two-and-a-half months longer.
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