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Palliative Care for Cancer Patients – What We Should Know

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  • Adult cancer patients or their caregivers: contact Sr Vlooi Venter regarding management of pain or side effects of cancer / treatment.
  • Parents or guardians of children / teens with cancer: contact Anina Meiring regarding management of pain or side effects of cancer / treatment.
  • Advocacy related – contact Zodwa Sithole regarding difficulties around access to treatment / medication; and patient or caregiver rights.

About Palliative Care

1. Introduction

Life with cancer and undergoing cancer treatment, means adjusting to multiple changes including learning to manage symptoms and side effects. This is where palliative care can bring support and guidance.

Palliative Care is specialised medical care for people with serious illness that can be provided alongside the treatment, aimed at managing your illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from symptoms such as pain, depression, nausea, and shortness of breath.

The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Studies confirm that patients who receive both Palliative Care, as well as treatment aimed against their cancer have a better quality of life and mood than those who don’t receive Palliative Care at all.

Palliative care also includes paediatric palliative care for children (and their families) who have life-threatening or serious conditions. Palliative Care also reduces the number of necessary hospital admissions, the length of hospital stays and the time spent in intensive care units.

Palliative care is provided by a trained team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who work together with the patient’s other medical specialists to provide an extra layer of support.

It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided alongside potentially curative treatment.

The medical team offering different aspects of palliative care can vary. Other team members that the patient with cancer may, for example, be referred to might include:

  • Pharmacists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Registered dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Spiritual counsellors such as chaplains

2. Where do I Receive Palliative Care?

Palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings including the hospital, out-patient clinic, hospices and at home (Center to Advance Palliative Care, 2019).

3. Does my Insurance Pay for Palliative Care?

Some medical aids do provide palliative care benefits.

CANSA has partnered with Alignd, a value-based care and patient-centric organisation working with medical schemes to improve access to and cover for palliative care from diagnosis of serious cancer. Read more…

4. How do I Know if Palliative Care is Right for me?

Palliative care may be right for you if you suffer from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, or other significant symptoms due to a serious illness.

Serious illnesses may include cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, TB and COVID-19, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and more.

Palliative care can be provided at any stage of illness and alongside potentially curative treatments aimed at managing your underlying illness.

It is best when palliative care is given from the time of diagnosis of a serious illness (Center to Advance Palliative Care, 2019).

5. What Can I Expect from Palliative Care?

You can expect guidance and support to relieve symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

Palliative care helps you carry on with your daily life as best as possible. It improves your ability to go through medical treatments. It helps you better understand your condition and your choices for medical care.

In short, you can expect support for the best possible quality of life (Center to Advance Palliative Care, 2019).

6. How does Palliative Care Work with my Own Doctor?

The palliative care team works in partnership with other doctors to provide an extra layer of support for you and your family. The team provides expert symptom management, spends extra time with you discussing your goals and treatment options and helps you to navigate the health system. The palliative care team may for example talk to your regular doctor to suggest ways to handle pain and other symptoms (Center to Advance Palliative Care, 2019).

7. Finding a Palliative Care Provider

Any patient can request palliative care!

  • Inform your doctors and nurses that you would like a referral to consult the palliative care team.
  • You can start with the Provider Directory which is where you can find a palliative care provider or hospice in your area.


Center to Advance Palliative Care. Palliative Care – What You Should Know, 2019

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