Canadians with advanced cancer and their caregivers tend to link "palliative care" with impending death, and education is needed to help people realize the quality of life benefits such early care brings, doctors say.
Palliative care is designed to improve the quality of life for patients with a serious illness and their families.
The definition has changed over time. Originally, in the 1960s, it was defined as end-of-life care, mainly for people with cancer.
The definition is now much broader. International agencies such as the World Health Organization now encourage palliative care to be applied "early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life."
Several studies show early palliative care for people with advanced cancer also improves satisfaction with treatment and mitigates depression.
To look at perceptions of early palliative care, researchers at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto assigned people with common types of cancer, such as lung, gastrointestinal, colon and breast, to receive early referral for palliative care or standard cancer treatment.
Oncologists estimated all 48 patients had an estimated survival of six to 24 months when the trial began. A total of 23 caregivers were also interviewed.
Initially, patients in both groups linked palliative care to imminent death. One patient in the intervention group said, "It means death to me. It does. The end."