Palliative Care: What You Should Know

Palliative care is not the same as hospice care. It involves caring for a person’s symptoms as they undergo cancer treatment.

A doctor holding an elderly woman’s hand as they sit up on the edge of a bed

Palliative care refers to specialised attention for people with severe illnesses. Simply put, it comprises care for their symptoms and treatment for their specific health condition.

Hospice care, on the other hand, involves caring for and comforting a person who’s approaching the end of life. Generally, people who admit themselves into a hospice centre understand that their illnesses are not responding to clinical treatment.

Likewise, this type of care is for people whom doctors believe have less than six months or less to live. Let’s discover the role palliative care plays in cancer treatment and symptom management together. 

A woman pressing her stomach bulge on the left and a woman holding her waist on the right
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss are common symptoms of cancer.

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Cancer 

People with cancer will likely experience symptoms of varying prevalence and severity. Usually, it relates to the types and stages of cancer and treatment options prescribed by an oncologist. In addition, comorbidities can also have a direct effect on symptom intensity. It’s also worth noting that people with cancer often present with more than one symptom at any given time.

A few common signs and symptoms of cancer are: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Night sweats 
  • Skin changes 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Bowel or bladder issues 
  • Pain that doesn’t go away 
  • Unexplained bleeding or bruising 
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss 
Woman wearing a scarf holding a nurse’s hands as they look at each other smilingly
Chemotherapy can help get rid of cancer symptoms.

The Role of Palliative Care in Supporting Cancer Treatment 

Palliative care for cancer is not just about managing symptoms. In fact, some treatment modalities can help lower the frequency or do away with its symptoms altogether. The primary mode of action of these modalities is to shrink a tumour or ease the pressure on nerves or surrounding tissues. These include: 

  • Chemotherapy 
  • Cryotherapy 
  • Radiotherapy 
  • Surgery 
  • Hormone therapy 
  • Radiofrequency ablation 
  • Targeted cancer medications 
Stimulation of the qi hai and guan yuan acupoints can ease the side effects of gastrointestinal surgery.

The Potential Benefits of Using Chinese Medicine in Palliative Care  

Alternatively, TCM can be considered to improve a person with cancer’s quality of life. For people who have malignant tumours, the treatment options proposed will serve to improve the efficacy of clinical therapy whilst suppressing its side effects.

“People who undergo surgery to remove a gastrointestinal tumour will experience issues like epigastric distention, stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, as well as intractable hiccups.

As such, the use of acupuncture and moxibustion therapy on acupoints like zu san li (ST36, 足三裏), tian shu (ST25, 天樞), zhong wan (CV12, 中脘), qi hai (CV6, 氣海), and guan yuan (CV4, 關元) can be helpful.

A nasal feeding of Chinese medicine that reduces bloating, regulates qi (vital energy) and strengthens the Spleen can also be introduced to promote the recovery of gastrointestinal functions,” says physician Chu.

A multi-grain meal that contains flaxseeds, red sage (dan shen, 丹參) and Panax notoginseng (tian qi, 田七) may also be consumed to boost vitality.

For people with incurable, advanced-stage cancer or elderly people with poor body constitutions, TCM treatment can be useful for calming clinical symptoms and extending their lifespan. 

Physician Chu adds, “People with cervical cancer who underwent extensive hysterectomy and pelvic node dissection procedures can experience urination paralysis and urine retention problems. Thus, acupuncture treatment on san yin jiao (SP6, 三陰交), ying ling quan (SP9, 陰陵泉), zu san li (ST36), qi hai (CV6, 氣海), guan yuan (CV4, 關元), and zhong ji (CV3, 中極) can help relieve these symptoms.” 

Ultimately, palliative care can potentially increase a person’s chances of achieving cancer remission. Do speak to a TCM practitioner if you wish to consider using acupuncture and herbal medication to support disease treatment.

References

  1. National Institute on Aging. What Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care? [online] [Accessed 4 March 2022] 
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Palliative Care and the Management of Common Distressing Symptoms in Advanced Cancer: Pain, Breathlessness, Nausea and Vomiting, and Fatigue. [online] [Accessed 4 March 2022] 
  3. The American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Cancer. [online] [Accessed 4 March 2022] 
  4. The American Cancer Society. Facts About Cancer Pain. [online]  [Accessed 4 March 2022] 
  5. Better Health Channel. Cancer pain management. [online] [Accessed 4 March 2022] 
  6. CANCER RESEARCH UK. Palliative treatment. [online]  [Accessed 4 March 2022] 

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