Cancer Care: Replacing Uncertainty with Compassion

When you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be daunting to decide on care given the uncertainty of treatment options and their potential side effects.

There are many types of cancer. While they are each a different disease, they all are caused by the abnormal, unregulated growth of cells that break through normal tissue boundaries and spread to other parts of the body. The most common types of cancers are carcinomas. They start in cells that line surfaces of the body, such as the lungs, colon, breast ducts, and prostate. Less common types of cancers include lymphomas, which start in lymph tissue; leukemia, which are cancers of white blood cells; melanoma; a cancer of the skin’s color-producing cells; and sarcomas, cancers of bone, cartilage, muscle and other related tissues.

In contrast, benign (noncancerous tumors) are abnormal growths of cells that do not invade nearby tissue. Benign tumors sometimes need to be removed because they can compress nearby tissue, leading to problems.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 1.9 million new cancer cases this year in the U.S. This figure does not include basal cell and squamous cell cancers of the skin.

We know that all cancers are different. Some are easy to cure; others are rarely cured; many can be controlled. Some cancers can return after years of complete remission (no sign of the cancer).

Although all cancers are different, as they worsen, they share many common symptoms. Sometimes chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation and other cancer treatments lead to their own symptoms.

Patients with cancer will often have pain at the site of the tumor or neuropathy (nerve pain). Weakness, fatigue and malaise (a general sense of not feeling well) are common. Nausea and decreased appetite are also common, as is weight loss due to several factors. Patients with advanced cancer will often experience shortness of breath.

Palliative care can help when cancers or their treatments are causing significant symptoms. Elizabeth Palliative Care is an integral part of the service offering at The Elizabeth Hospice. This medical approach focuses on providing patients relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of chronic conditions like heart failure. Working with your primary care physician and other physicians, the palliative care team provides an added layer of support.

The palliative team will facilitate discussions about care goals with patients, family members, doctors, nurses and others. These are an opportunity for everyone to assess what is and isn’t working, what is helping and what is causing more harm than good. Sometimes, people realize that they do not want to go to the hospital anymore but want to continue aggressive treatments at home and in the doctor’s office.

In cancers that are not cured, the end-stage often will occur with a rapid decline in the patient’s health over a few months. At this point, radiation, chemotherapy and surgery are often not helpful and may only further worsen the patient’s overall health.

Hospice can be the right option for these patients. As the largest nonprofit hospice provider in San Diego County and Southwest Riverside County, we offer a comprehensive program that goes beyond managing symptoms and relieving pain. Our focus is not on the illness but on embracing experiences that bring meaning and joy to a person’s life.

The Elizabeth Hospice will provide all the necessary durable medical equipment (DME), like walkers, hospital beds and bedside commodes, and hospice-related medicines to the home. A patient on hospice will continue to be under the care of his or her community doctor and have a care team that includes a hospice doctor or nurse practitioner, registered nurse case manager, social worker, home health aide, and spiritual counselor, if desired. Many studies have shown that advanced-cancer patients on hospice live longer than those who do not choose hospice, probably because tender, loving care makes a difference and cancer treatments can do more harm than good late in the disease.

Our team brings expertise and innovation to every patient and family we treat. We ensure the care we provide is what is needed and wanted, including:

  • Blood transfusions when they can help with symptoms
  • Short courses of radiation therapy to treat bone pain due to cancer, when pain medicines are insufficient
  • Specialized services for patients recently released from the hospital

For patients, our approach means comfort. For families, it offers the freedom to be loving family members, with the burdens of planning all the details of caregiving lifted off their shoulders. To find out how your loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer can benefit from palliative care or hospice care, contact The Elizabeth Hospice at 800.797.2050.

By George Delgado, MD, Chief Medical Officer, The Elizabeth Hospice