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What is Palliative Therapy?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 June 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Palliative therapy, also known as palliative care, is a type of treatment aimed at relieving symptoms and improving the quality of life of patients with chronic or progressive diseases such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic heart failure, or neurological conditions. Palliative therapy is not used to cure diseases, although it is often used in conjunction with curative treatments to alleviate the side affects that may be caused by these treatments. Palliative care is often confused with hospice care. Unlike hospice, which treats patients only in the last six months of life, patients undergoing palliative therapy can do so in any stage of a disease.

The palliative care movement was born from the hospice movement of the late 1960s as the need grew to care for people with chronic illnesses. By the 1980s, the first hospital-based palliative care programs were appearing in the United States. The goal of palliative therapy is to help patients and their families deal with physical, emotional, social, or spiritual concerns that may arise after a diagnosis of a serious illness.

Palliative therapy relies on a multidisciplinary approach to a patient's care in which input comes from a team of professionals working with the patient and his or her family. This team can include the patient's doctors, nurses, and chaplain, as well as social workers and mental health professionals. They work together to create a plan of care that helps identify and alleviate areas of discomfort brought on by the disease or its treatments.

Typical palliative treatments can include more traditional forms of care, such as the prescription of pain and nausea reducing drugs, or surgical techniques that may alleviate pain or pressure. Treatments can also include alternative medicines like acupuncture, reiki, or hormone therapies. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can sometimes be considered palliative if the result reduces overall symptoms of the disease and improves the patient's quality of life. This is sometimes known as palliative chemotherapy.

In 2010, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that lung cancer patients who received palliative therapy early in their illness experienced reduced depression and increased quality of life. These patients lived 2.7 months longer than patients who received standard oncological care. A second study published in the medical magazine Health Affairs showed that in four New York state hospitals, the use of effective palliative care teams reduced hospital costs for Medicaid patients by an average of $6,900 US Dollars (USD) per admission.

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