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Expert Stresses Importance of End-of-Life Care in Pediatric Oncology

Angelica Welch
Published: Thursday, Jun 14, 2018

Justin N. Baker, MD

Justin N. Baker, MD

While the field of pediatric oncology has progressed rapidly over the past decade, about 20% of children with cancer will still die from their disease. Justin N. Baker, MD, chief of the Division of Quality of Life and Palliative Care at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, said that end-of-life care for these patients and their families is critical.

, Baker discussed the benefits of a holistic approach to end-of-life care in pediatric oncology, as well as the importance of teaching palliative care to the next generation of oncologists and hematologists.

OncLive: How have you seen symptom management and end-of-life care in pediatrics evolve over the last 5 to 10 years?

Baker: We realized that integrating expertise into the primary oncology experience is critically important. When you think about quality of life, and how you can make every day the best day it could possibly be—it is done through integrating high-quality symptom management and communication. 

The evolution of symptom management and end-of-life care has been fairly extreme over the last 5 to 10 years. We know that it makes a difference in the bereavement period for the parents, and for the children as they are dying. It makes a difference for the oncology team, because they can feel better equipped to care for this very complex patient population that unfortunately, we still have. About 20% of children with cancer still die, and we have to be experts to be managing those kids as well.

What benefit does a multidisciplinary approach serve in palliative care for children?

Palliative care for children is inherently multidisciplinary. Anybody that tries to practice it themselves is really not practicing palliative care. Palliative care takes a holistic approach, and in order to take a holistic approach, you need a holistic team. That holistic team needs to address issues related to suffering in general.
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