Harvard Medicine

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Life Before Death

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Palliative care not only provides a better quality of life to patients with terminal cancer, but it may also help them live two months longer than patients receiving standard care alone, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital report.

Cancer patients traditionally receive palliative care—help managing the psychological aspects of serious illness as well as symptoms such as pain and nausea—late in their illness. Study participants—all recently diagnosed with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer—were randomly assigned to receive either standard oncology care or early palliative care in addition to standard care. Even though aggressive end-of-life care was more common in the standard-care group than in the palliative-care one, patients in the latter group lived approximately two months longer than those in the former group and showed improvements in both quality of life and mood.

“One of the most common misconceptions about palliative care is that it means giving up,” says Vicki Jackson, an HMS instructor in medicine and a coauthor of the study, which appeared in the August 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. “These patients not only lived longer, they also experienced improved quality of life and were better able to enjoy the time they had remaining.”

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