Dorothy Yamamoto’s husband, Joe, is a pancreatic cancer survivor. Throughout his treatment, the couple has especially appreciated his healthcare team’s integrative approach to his overall care and wellbeing.

“It can take a village,” she said, “and help comes in many forms on the cancer journey. Perhaps it’s a dietitian, an oncology massage therapist or integrative oncologists.”

The inclusion of specialists like these when it comes to a pancreatic cancer patient’s treatment and care regimen can play an important role in what is known as supportive care, or palliative care.

Supportive care focuses on providing patients relief from the symptoms, side effects and stress of pancreatic cancer. It’s an extra layer of support, provided by specially trained doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together in concert with the patient’s other doctors to maintain or improve quality of life.

Seeing healthcare professionals who focus on symptom management and supportive care improves outcomes and is critical for quality of life. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) strongly recommends that symptom management and supportive (palliative) care be provided early after diagnosis, as well as during and after treatment.

Nicole Lise Feingold, MA, director of Patient Services at PanCAN, said: “Supportive care helps ensure that patients don’t bear the burden of pancreatic cancer on their own. PanCAN Patient Services regularly speaks with both patients and caregivers about the importance of self-care, and supportive care is certainly on the self-care spectrum.”

Supportive care often consists of an interdisciplinary team of healthcare providers. It may include a doctor who specializes in palliative medicine, a nurse, a social worker and a dietitian, among others. The team can prescribe treatments to control pain and other symptoms, as well as help weigh the pros and cons of various medical decisions. Other supportive care roles can include help in navigating the complex healthcare system, providing emotional support and guidance, and helping patients achieve their own goals for their care.

Andrew Hendifar, MD, MPH, is medical oncology lead for the Gastrointestinal Disease Research Group at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and co-director of Pancreas Oncology. He said supportive care is an especially critical element for people with pancreatic cancer.

“This disease can cause a lot of symptoms and side effects that can be debilitating, but supportive care can make a big difference in how patients feel, which can greatly impact their quality of life.”

Get comprehensive disease information, including supportive care tips and a booklet on the subject – all reviewed and approved by renowned leaders in the field – by contacting PanCAN Patient Services. Also, please see our corresponding infographic for more information on supportive care.