What is the benefit of early palliative care for lung cancer?

Thomas A. Hensing, MD
Hematology & Oncology
There was a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine of patients with advanced lung cancer. Regardless of their therapy -- chemo, radiation, surgery, whatever combination thereof -- half the people had early and aggressive palliative care. These people saw a palliative care physician on a regular basis and had a whole palliative care team.

A traditional approach is to begin palliative care when a patient stops cancer therapy; we stop the treatment and then focus more on symptom relief and quality of life. But it turns out that not only was quality of life better when palliative care was begun early, but people lived longer, which was a surprise finding. You would expect that if we are aggressive in our symptom management, patients will have improved quality of life, but they also live longer with this approach.

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