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Palliative care shows promise

Monterey County Herald, September 7, 2010

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a report showing that cancer patients who began receiving palliative care immediately upon diagnosis were happier, more mobile, suffered less pain and lived longer than those patients receiving oncology treatments alone.

Palliative care is medical treatment that concentrates on reducing symptoms, rather than striving to halt or reverse the progression of the disease itself. The goal is to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for those facing terminal illness.

Dr. Jennifer S. Temel, an oncologist and author of the published report, says that "Palliative care is traditionally extended to hospitalized patients in the last week of life. When palliative care is given at the onset of diagnosis, it has a positive impact on quality of life and increases longevity."

The study could not determine why the patients lived longer but experts had several theories: Depression is known to shorten life, and the patients treated palliatively slept better, ate better and were more inclined to socialize — all factors that contribute to general well-being.