When a person has cancer, receiving palliative care might reduce recovery hope, drain savings, require extensive commitment from family members, and make it more difficult to receive proper care in an emergency. It also might relieve pain and other symptoms, provide meaningful relationships, allow maintenance of personal integrity and create a sense of normalcy. Given these pros and cons, palliative care is not necessarily right for every cancer patient.
One of the biggest drawbacks of palliative care for cancer is that it can negate hope of recovery. The focus is on relieving symptoms, not in curing the disease, so people understand that the choice toward palliative care means that the patient likely will see an increase in tumor size or spread of cancer cells. Palliative care generally is not used unless the patient has six months or less to live, and for many people, the knowledge that death is eminent is overwhelming and heartbreaking.
The expense of palliative care for cancer also can be considerable. This type of care does not necessarily improve a patient's medical status, so many insurance companies are reluctant to cover the costs. Families who go the palliative care route often have to pay for the care out-of-pocket, and sometimes the costs deplete any savings the patient had or planned to give as inheritance. Even if insurance covers the costs, it can be troublesome to fill out the paperwork properly and get reimbursement to go through.
Palliative care can be given in facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals, but often families choose to receive palliative care at home because it costs less not to have the patient in a formal institution. When this happens, the family members often have to adjust their schedules, giving considerable time to the patient. This can be emotionally draining, especially given that the family knows that the patient probably won't get better. Palliative care professionals have to be able to give a similar commitment without getting burned out from watching patients deteriorate from case to case.
When a person receives palliative care for cancer in their own home, if something is seriously wrong, a family member or palliative care professional is not as close to additional medical professionals or tools as if the patient were in a facility. Transport of the patient might be necessary, and in some cases, the patient suffers unnecessarily en route or even passes away due to the lack of immediate response. Placing the patient in a facility is not necessarily the answer to this conundrum, because medical institutions typically do not have the resources to house terminally ill patients in large numbers.
On the opposite side of the palliative care for cancer spectrum, palliative care does provide a relief of symptoms for the patient. Individuals who receive this care are often more comfortable, not only because they can be at home if desired, but also because they typically do not have to go through as many medical procedures. In this way, palliative care for cancer improves quality of life.
Often, people who need palliative care for cancer make arrangements with just a few professionals for treatment. The caregivers work with the patient for extended periods. This means that the patient is able to form relationships with his caregivers. These relationships can comfort the patient and help him feel normal despite his condition.
Patients who use palliative care also sometimes feel as though they have more control over what is happening to them. They do not feel as though they are caught in a whirlwind of procedures and tests that might or might not prove beneficial. During the final stages of cancer, this can let a person maintain a sense of dignity and autonomy.
Even though receiving palliative care can create logistical problems for additional medical care, sometimes at-home palliative care aids in creating a sense of normalcy for the cancer patient. They are surrounded by familiar items and often have more privacy. This can reduce the patient's stress, which in turn might have a positive effect on their health.