What is Palliative Care?
Let’s start with a quick analogy to understand how palliative care works.
Have you ever gotten a sunburn? Chances are, you have.
In the days after an aggressive sunburn, you might find yourself in considerable discomfort. If you were a kid when it happened, you might remember your mom or dad putting aloe vera on your skin. The next thing you know, you start to feel a little better.
So did aloe vera cure your sunburn? No, but it did help cool and soothe the skin to ease your symptoms. However, the burn has to heal on its own.
That’s an example of how palliative care works. It’s a health treatment modality designed to help relieve pain and discomfort apart from
Why Palliative Care Works for Mesothelioma Patients
Now that you know palliative care helps you bear the discomfort from a condition or treatment, you’ll see that palliative care makes sense for patients with serious illnesses. Patients suffering from mesothelioma often consider palliative care as the disease reaches its later stages. Still, it’s often suggested that patients and caregivers utilize palliative care as early as possible.
Commonly, people confuse palliative care with hospice care, but it couldn’t be further from it.
Palliative care differs from hospice care because patients can still receive palliative care with curative treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Palliative treatments can alleviate pain, reduce symptoms and, if started early enough, extend a patient’s life.
Research has shown that patients with mesothelioma may live longer if palliative care is started relatively early after making a diagnosis.
Some of the most significant mesothelioma symptoms include pain, muscle weakness, and difficulty eating and breathing. Palliative care can reduce these symptoms and help patients maximize their quality of life. Palliative care also allows mesothelioma patients to maintain a level of freedom and autonomy while continuing to get the treatment they need to reduce pain.
Palliative Treatments for Mesothelioma
There are several palliative treatments available for mesothelioma patients. Each patient may be eligible for different treatment options and should work with their doctor to determine their palliative care plan.
One of the most common complications of malignant mesothelioma is fluid buildup (pleural effusion or abdominal ascites) where the cancer is present. Palliative surgery aims to ease these symptoms and complications of mesothelioma, such as chest or abdominal pain, weakness, and difficulty breathing.
Surgical procedures used in palliative mesothelioma treatment include:
- Paracentesis: Drains fluid in the lining of the abdominal wall and the lining surrounding the internal organs to reduce peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms.
- Partial pleurectomy: Removal of part of the pleura (lung lining) so fluid can’t fill it. Fluid buildup in the pleura is a common cause of discomfort in pleural mesothelioma patients.
- PleurX catheter: A catheter can also be inserted into the pleural space if a patient suffers from pleural effusions (fluid buildup in the chest wall) that keep coming back. Patients can then drain the fluid at home (or with the help of a home health aide) instead of going to the hospital.
- Thoracentesis: Doctors use a needle to drain pleural effusions so patients can breathe more easily.
- Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) talc pleurodesis: The space between the two layers of the pleura is sealed with medical-grade talc so that it can no longer fill with fluid.
Surgery is more invasive than other palliative treatment options, and as a result, some patients may not be eligible for this option.
Palliative Chemotherapy and Radiation
Doctors may explore chemotherapy and palliative radiation treatments when patients are not eligible for surgery.
These palliative treatments focus on reducing pain by shrinking the size of tumors that are pressing on bones, nerves, organs or major blood vessels.
These treatment options have some side effects, and patients should communicate with their doctors in case additional medication can be provided to ease symptoms. This is another example of palliative care, where medications can be given to help patients manage their pain as they go through necessary procedures.
Doctors often help patients manage severe pain with prescription painkillers (narcotics) or over-the-counter medications (such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs like Advil, Motrin, ibuprofen, and Aleve) for more mild symptoms.
Like any treatment strategy, doctors aim to balance the impact of each treatment or set of side effects to be in the patient’s best interest.
Other Palliative Treatments
While alternative mesothelioma palliative treatment should not replace professional medical care, some lifestyle and therapies can help patients.
Some of these treatments include acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and exercise. Combined with intentional lifestyle choices, these options have helped some mesothelioma patients reduce stress and improve their overall well-being.
While these alternative treatments are not right for everyone, some people have reported success. Remember that palliative success is not necessarily related to curing or improving a patient’s condition but is more about a patient’s ability to withstand discomfort.
Note: We do not advocate for alternative approaches to be pursued instead of traditional health care treatments.
When to Choose Palliative Care
It can be difficult to know the right time to choose palliative care. However, some circumstances may indicate a patient is ready for palliative care.
If you or a loved one is suffering from mesothelioma, you may want to consider palliative care if you have had multiple hospital or emergency room visits in a short period of time. Outside palliative care may also be an option if a family member has functioned as the primary informal caregiver but can no longer provide the necessary caregiving assistance.
It is important to recognize that patients can still continue to treat their disease while in palliative care. Patients can undergo surgery, radiation treatments, or chemotherapy to improve their prognosis while still in palliative care. It is important for mesothelioma patients to work closely with their specialists to determine their eligible treatments.
Selecting the Right Care Facility
It is important to evaluate different palliative care facilities and providers to determine which option is best for you or your loved one.
Your local hospital or cancer center will often have information about nearby palliative care facilities. Your doctor may also have suggestions or recommendations about palliative care providers. Additionally, national organizations such as the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offer online resources.
Each palliative care facility and provider have their own methods and strategies. Talk with a medical professional to consider if a particular facility is a right fit for your specific needs as a mesothelioma patient.
Get Help Through Palliative Treatment
Some mesothelioma resources you may be able to access include:
- Free Mesothelioma Resource Guide: Get our in-depth printed guide to carry information with you.
- Free Doctor Match program: Our patient advocates can connect you with a doctor who specializes
- Mesothelioma compensation: Mesothelioma victims may be eligible for legal compensation from asbestos-product manufacturers.
Mesothelioma Palliative Care FAQs
What is the best mesothelioma treatment?
Does palliative care impact life expectancy?
Palliative care is mainly used to manage pain and alleviate symptoms in the later stages of mesothelioma. It is not used as a curative treatment, which is focused on improving life expectancy.
However, some studies have found that the earlier palliative treatments are used may have a positive impact on prognosis and life expectancy. It’s important to work with your mesothelioma specialist to determine your best treatment options.
What is the difference between palliative care and hospice care?
Although palliative care and hospice care share some similarities, some significant differences exist.
Hospice care is traditionally suited for individuals suffering from terminal illnesses whom doctors believe only have a short time to live. Their life expectancy is often less than a year and could be as little as a few months.
Palliative care is available to anyone with a serious illness or condition regardless of life expectancy.
The other critical difference is that hospice care only provides symptom relief, generally in pain management. In palliative care, patients can continue to treat their illness with more aggressive methods, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or even surgery.