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Palliative Care Approaches to Common Cancer Symptoms

Palliative Care

Updated 06-01-2024

Palliative Care Approaches to Common Cancer Symptoms

Palliative care is a specialised area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. Its primary goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family. In the context of cancer, palliative care plays a critical role in managing common symptoms associated with the disease and its treatment. These symptoms can range from physical to emotional and psychological challenges.

Understanding Palliative Care in Oncology

Within oncology, palliative care is an approach that aims to address the multifaceted needs of patients with cancer. This type of care is not limited to end-of-life situations but is integrated early in the treatment course alongside other cancer-fighting therapies. It involves a team of specialists, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and other professionals, who work together to provide an additional layer of support.

Pain Management

One of the most prevalent symptoms cancer patients encounter is pain. Effective palliative care strategies focus on comprehensive pain management tailored to individual needs. Pain can be controlled using medications such as analgesics, including opioids for severe pain, and non-opioids for mild to moderate pain. Adjuvant therapies such as nerve blocks, along with non-pharmacological options like physical therapy, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques, are also incorporated for holistic pain relief.

Nausea and Vomiting Control

Nausea and vomiting can greatly diminish a patient's quality of life and are common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Palliative care utilizes antiemetic medications that work through various mechanisms to reduce these symptoms. Dietary modifications and alternative practices like ginger supplements and acupressure may complement pharmacologic interventions.

Fatigue Reduction Strategies

Cancer-related fatigue is a profound tiredness that doesn't improve with rest. Managing this fatigue involves a combination of approaches, including energy-conservation techniques, exercise programs designed to gradually increase activity levels, nutritional support, and addressing sleep disturbances.

Emotional and Psychological Support

Cancer diagnosis and treatments can lead to significant emotional and psychological distress. Palliative care addresses these issues by providing counselling, support groups, and psychiatric interventions when necessary. Coping strategies, such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, are effective for managing anxiety and depression, helping patients navigate their cancer journey more comfortably.

Respiratory Symptom Management

Dyspnoea, or difficulty breathing, is common in cancer patients, particularly those with lung involvement. Palliative care aims to improve breathlessness through a combination of pharmacological treatments, like bronchodilators and low-dose opioids, and non-pharmacological measures like breathing exercises and the use of supplemental oxygen.

Improving Appetite and Dealing with Anorexia-Cachexia Syndrome

Weight loss and a lack of appetite are challenging issues for many cancer patients. Palliative care professionals work to improve caloric intake through nutritional advice and appetite stimulants. When needed, enteral or parenteral nutrition might be considered to ensure adequate nutrition.

Bowel and Bladder Function

Constipation and incontinence can greatly affect a patient's dignity and comfort. Bowel regimens, adequate hydration, and dietary adjustments are implemented to minimise constipation. Bladder issues are managed through personalised interventions and, in some cases, referrals to specialists for advanced treatments.

Integrating Palliative Care into Cancer Treatment

For optimal patient outcomes, palliative care should be considered at the point of a cancer diagnosis and continue throughout treatment. It is personalised to meet the evolving needs of patients as they proceed through various stages of treatment and survivorship. Palliative care is not a one-size-fits-all solution and requires constant evaluation and adjustment to provide the most effective care.


Palliative care is an essential aspect of comprehensive cancer care, addressing a range of symptoms that patients may experience throughout their treatment. By prioritising the well-being and comfort of patients, palliative care plays a crucial role in enhancing their quality of life. It involves a holistic approach that considers the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of cancer care, ensuring that patients receive the supportive care they need to navigate their treatment with dignity and as little discomfort as possible.

About the Author

Olivia is a seasoned professional with an extensive career spanning the Aged Care sector, bringing decades of experience to her role. Her comprehensive understanding of Aged Care services and practices is a testament to her dedication. Olivia’s gratitude extends to those who have generously shared their knowledge and insights with her over the years, contributing to her wealth of expertise.
Olivia’s articles reflect her commitment to practical and informative content. They skillfully combine her industry know-how with real-world insights, providing valuable resources for navigating the complexities of the Aged Care sector. Olivia stands as a reliable advocate for delivering compassionate and effective care to elderly individuals, offering her support not only to fellow caregivers and professionals but also to those seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the sector.

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