Seeing healthcare professionals who focus on symptom management and supportive care improves outcomes and is critical for your quality of life. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends that symptom management and supportive care should be provided early in your diagnosis as well as during and after treatment.
What is supportive (palliative) care?
Supportive care is care focused on comfort, quality of life and a patient’s total well-being during and after cancer-fighting treatment. Supportive care is meant to relieve the symptoms and side effects of a disease. Supportive care can be provided at any time after a cancer diagnosis and should be provided throughout the pancreatic cancer journey. It can accompany cancer-fighting treatments or be the focus of care.
High quality supportive care guides families through decision-making to allow them to work toward their healthcare goals. These goals may include the hope for a cure, to prolong life and to encourage peace and dignity throughout the illness and at the end of life. It offers assistance with all symptoms related to cancer from the time of diagnosis throughout the patient’s life.
A doctor may provide treatments intended to increase comfort and improve quality of life without calling it “supportive care.” The terms used are not important as long as patients get the care they need. Other words that are often used to describe this type of care include “whole person care”, “comfort-oriented care” and “supportive care”. Supportive care can be delivered anywhere, including at home, in a hospital or nursing home, through outpatient care or in any other setting.
The patient’s healthcare team should collaborate to provide supportive care that coordinates with other treatments. During cancer-fighting treatment, patients often need help managing side effects caused by the treatments. After cancer-fighting treatment, survivors may need help in managing late effects and long-term effects of cancer and cancer treatments known as aftereffects. These aftereffects include any type of physical, emotional or practical concern that lingers after treatment is complete. Practical concerns involve many areas, including legal and financial matters, transportation and employment problems, etc.
Misunderstanding the meaning of supportive care
Supportive care includes recognizing and treating the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and practical concerns of a patient at any stage of living with cancer or other serious illnesses. However, misunderstandings about the meaning of supportive care create a common challenge. Many people, including some healthcare professionals, think that supportive care is only given to people nearing the end of life. However, supportive care can be given at any point during the pancreatic cancer journey, regardless of age or prognosis.
When do patients need supportive care?
Supportive care is appropriate at any time during the pancreatic cancer journey. No two patients have exactly the same experiences and needs, and a patient’s needs are likely to change over time. Pancreatic cancer patients may experience pain, fatigue and other adverse effects that reduce their quality of life. Health professionals may provide supportive care inconsistently, so it is important to be active in asking for help. Patients should get the supportive care they need and deserve throughout their journey.
Supportive care plays an important role after diagnosis, during and after cancer-fighting treatment, and at the end of life.
Some individuals may require very little supportive care because they only experience minor concerns. Others may require more supportive care as different challenges arise. For example, one patient may seek support for emotional issues immediately following diagnosis while another patient may not need emotional support until several years after treatment.
Patients and their caregivers should look to supportive care as a way to feel the very best in every area of life. Patients and their loved ones will be best equipped to deal with the challenges of their pancreatic cancer journey when their physical well-being and emotional attitude are as strong and positive as possible. Total well-being matters to each patient and should be considered by all members of the healthcare team.
How to find supportive care services
Supportive care programs exist in many hospitals and hospices across the country. However, patients may find it hard to decide what type of help they need and where to find these services.
If a patient is seeking supportive care and is facing any of these challenges, it is important to speak to the doctor and other members of the healthcare team for more information. When a professional does not have answers or does not pay attention to individual concerns, the patient can choose to visit someone else. Patients may receive supportive care from primary care physicians and nurses, oncologists, supportive care specialists, other medical specialists or hospice organizations.
We’re Here to Help
For more information about pain and symptom management, contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager and request a copy of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s educational booklet, Supportive Care: Quality of Life and Practical Care in Pancreatic Cancer.