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Expert Stresses True Definition of Palliative Care for Patients With Lung Cancer

Gina Columbus @ginacolumbusonc
Published: Thursday, Jul 06, 2017

lung cancer
Palliative care is often associated with a myriad of other terms—end-of-life care and hospice, for example—that don’t accurately paint the picture of what the therapeutic plan entails, according to Rachel Dibble, NP.

The biggest obstacle that lies in palliative care, she adds, is that such specialists are often brought in when patients have failed on multiple therapies, when a palliative team should truly get involved with patients at the time of diagnosis.

“The goal for palliative care, the overarching aim, is that it is patient-centered and family-oriented for increasing quality of life (QOL)," said Dibble, a nurse practitioner in palliative care at Sarah Cannon Research Institute and Tennessee Oncology. “At diagnosis, palliative care needs to be brought in. It makes it difficult for us to be brought in at the end of the disease. Patients should not be afraid of palliative care. The [term] is daunting; I am hoping to maybe change the thought of what palliative care means—it’s my hope.”

During the 2017 OncLive® State of the Science Summit™ on Advanced Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer, Dibble gave a presentation on palliative care. She also sat down for an interview to emphasize the importance of palliative care at the start of diagnosis and explained its differences from end-of-life care.

OncLive: Can you share some details of your lecture on palliative care?

Dibble: Palliative care is a specialty that is fairly new; however, the definition of palliative care has not been really laid out. There is a lot of confusion about what it is. Often, people think it’s end-of-life care or hospice. But palliative care starts at the beginning of diagnoses, and it is really head-to-toe symptom management. This includes pain, depression, anxiety, and advanced care planning in particular. It is helping the family and the patient cope with a life-changer event.

Anecdotally, how do families experience palliative care alongside patients?

It is really a collaborative approach. It is patient-centered and family-oriented care; it involves laying out goals of care and what equals QOL for some people. Some folks may say, “I don’t want my family involved in this. I am in denial, but I am going to deal with depression, anxiety, pain, constipation, diarrhea, treatment, or no treatment plan.” All of those things have to be supported.

Often, I will have patients who ask, “Can you talk to my wife about my decisions?” I really try to bring everyone together and develop a plan that is in alignment with treatment, no treatment, continuing treatment, or additional therapies, and make sure that within that things are managed, QOL is exhausted, and it’s the best possible QOL that patients can have with a collaborative approach with the oncologist. That is the idea of palliative care.

Have there been any advancements regarding symptom management?

As a clinician, you know the words, “You have cancer.” Those 3 words are life-changing events. It is head to toe, so you deal with the psychosocial [aspect] of it. Often, people have incredible financial issues, and we have patient advocates who can figure out insurance. There are resources for people who don’t have medication. All of that coordination is coupled with “Let’s manage your pain because you’re in and out of the hospital every other day, your costs are going through the roof, and that is because your pain is not managed well. On top of that, you’re not eating, vomiting, experiencing diarrhea and constipation, and you’re in agony.” When you put all of that together, that is the classic picture of a patient with cancer. You really have to think a 360 [degree approach] in addressing all of these things at one time.

What are the biggest challenges with the palliative care field right now?

From the perspective of providers, patients, or referrals, is that we are often brought into the situation late in the disease. Therefore, from the get-go of the words, “You have cancer,” a team is brought in; an oncologist, radiologist, and surgeon. And by us not being brought in at that time, but brought in much later, the patients sometimes shut down and say, “Oh, palliative care means hospice.”

View Conference Coverage
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TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Cancer Summaries and Commentaries™: Update from Atlanta: Advances in the Treatment of Chronic Lymphocytic LeukemiaFeb 28, 20190.5
Community Practice Connections™: 2nd Annual International Congress on Immunotherapies in Cancer™: Focus on Practice-Changing ApplicationFeb 28, 20192.0
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