Palliative care and End of Life care

Many ask me the question ” I have been advised Palliative treatment. Am I dying? ” 

Let’s understand the difference between Palliative care and End of life care in a cancer diagnosis. 

Palliative care is mostly misunderstood as end of life care. The moment patients and their families hear of Palliative care they start presuming the worst. Many patients who have been referred for Palliative support believe they are going to die. Having palliative care doesn’t necessarily mean that the patient is going to die soon ; some patients have palliative care for years.

End of life and palliative care is based on what your needs are, not your diagnosis. If you have an incurable illness which will eventually lead to the end of patient’s life, palliative care which includes end of life care will be suggested.

Through this write up let’s understand the difference between Palliative care and End of life care. 

Though the aim of Palliative care and end-of-life care is similar as they both focus on  pain relief , providing  emotional and spiritual support and improving quality of life of the patient and the caregivers, there are differences between the two as well. 

Specifically if we talk of cancer, Palliative care is a type of care which supports anyone diagnosed with the disease  irrespective of the intent of the treatment.  A cancer diagnosis is always accompanied by a plethora of emotions- anger, disbelief, shock, fear, insecurities and many side effects of the treatment. At such a time a multidisciplinary team comprising of clinicians, counselors, spiritual leaders and social workers can work towards providing better quality of life for the patient and their families. Many cancer patients with curative intent receiving palliative recover from their illness.Palliative care, for such people, may happen on an as-needed basis which means the patient and their families may seek  it only  when their symptoms warrant more support. Many a times  Palliative care  is available from first diagnosis through to end-of-life care for  those people who live well for years with the disease which at some point progresses. Therefore, Palliative care also includes end of life care for such people. 

End-of-life care is a type of palliative care which aims to provide a comfortable, dignified & respectful support as a person reaches the end of their life. It’s for those people with terminal cancer  who are  likely to die within the next few months ( although,  it’s not always possible to predict when someone will die). A patient on End of life care will  continue to receive speciality care till their death. End of life care can be given either at home or in a hospice! 

To sum it up both palliative care and end of life care  can help to  cope with the many aspects of cancer which include managing symptoms caused by the disease, providing counselling and resolving spiritual and cultural issues. Therefore it’s right to say that Palliative care may also include end of life care. 

Author By
– Vandana Mahajan 

Vandana Mahajan is a cancer survivor and a cancer coach associated with a Mumbai-based cancer non-governmental organization Copewithcancer Madat Charitable Trust. She is trained in palliative and bereavement counselling with a post graduate diploma in integrative counselling. She is a volunteer counsellor at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai and also provides non medical cancer counselling to patients and caregivers across India and abroad via online platforms.