February 22, 2017

The role of palliative care for people living with lung disease

Claire Mulvihill, Lung Cancer Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia

When speaking to patients, one of the common topics of conversation is support, however, I have noticed reluctance in many people to access palliative care. I have also noted some people don’t accept or access palliative care services due to a sense of fear or that they are giving up on life.

Palliative care is defined as, “An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychological and spiritual.”1 Palliative care is not only beneficial for people living with advanced cancers but is beneficial for everyone living with long-term disease such as chronic respiratory and heart failure. It assists patients to enhance their quality of life, identify what is important and brings meaning to their lives. Care also extends to families and carers, helping them manage the transition to a changing lifestyle and addressing the varying challenges that may evolve.

The role of palliative care is to help patients achieve and maintain the best quality of life for as long as possible to make sure all their needs are catered for, and to help them feel in control of their situation. It also aims to make the time they have available as valuable as possible for both them and their family.2

Palliative care is delivered by a team of health professionals who work together with the patient’s treating team to initially provide an extra layer of support which may occur at any stage in the patient’s journey. This involvement by palliative care does not indicate that patients cannot continue receiving their varying treatments. Many patients will continue their therapies whilst receiving input from their palliative care team. The essence of palliative care is to deliver the best level of symptom management coupled with psychosocial support and assistance with decision making to ultimately improve the quality of life for the patient.

A study carried out in 2010 supports the benefits of palliative care, demonstrating patients diagnosed with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who received early palliative care experienced less depression, increased quality of life, less aggressive end-of life care and survived 2.7 months longer than those who received standalone oncologic care.3

It is important that palliative care is seen as an integral part of medicine to ensure patients living with a life limiting illness are receiving the best delivery of care from hospital to community. The challenge for patients, the public as a whole and clinicians is to improve the awareness and understanding of palliative care instead of equating it only with end-of-life care. For further information on supportive and palliative care, visit http://lungfoundation.com.au/patient-support/living-with-a-lungcondition/support-and-palliative-care/.

1. World Health Organization, Definition of palliative care, WHO 2012,
2. Cancer Council Victoria, 1st April, 2014 http://www.cancervic.org.au/aboutcancer types-treatments-trials/what_is_palliative_care
3. Tremel, JS et al. Early Palliative Care for patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. N Engl J Med 2010: 363: 733-742