Palliative Care & Childhood Cancer

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The purpose of palliative care is to help a child with cancer live as comfortably as possible. The right approach to such care can also provide some peace of mind for parents and other loved ones. Sometimes referred to as supportive care, palliative care goes beyond managing symptoms to include a focus on overall quality of life. It can be recommended at any stage of cancer to help children with their physical, psychological, and social needs.

Assessing Needs and Addressing Concerns

Specially trained nurses and doctors provide palliative care. It's a collaborative effort that includes input from a child's medical team as well as parents and family members. The process includes assessing a child's care needs and concerns. Some children may need help dealing with chemotherapy treatments and the physical reactions that sometimes take place. Child-specific needs addressed may also include:

  • Emotional stress
  • Increased fatigue
  • Pain and symptom management
  • Finding ways to safely participate in enjoyable, age-appropriate activities

Maintaining Open, Continuous Communication

The individuals that provide palliative care for children with cancer often spend a lot of time listening and answering questions. They'll make sure that all treatment options discussed are clearly understood. This usually includes explaining cancer to children in a way they can comprehend and taking the time to answer their questions about their treatments and the importance of doing what's recommended even if it doesn't makes sense to them. For instance, a child may not know why they need to keep taking certain medications even when they feel fine.

Improving Quality of Daily Life

Helping children maintain their quality of life as much as possible is a priority for palliative care providers. Such efforts may include helping families find funding for special equipment to help with walking and mobility. It may also be necessary to make appropriate home adaptions to make it easier and safer for a child to get around. Quality of life support may also include:

  • Monitoring reactions to medications, especially when changes to dosages are made
  • Helping children and parents set positive and realistic short-term goals
  • Encouraging the expression of feelings through play and art to determine what quality of life concerns matter most to a child

Palliative care isn't meant to be a substitute for a child's regular care for their cancer. It's more of an enhancement to existing treatments that will continue throughout the duration of a child's time with cancer. Such care can start at any point, even shortly after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. If hospice care becomes necessary, palliative care can continue to ensure that the child remains as comfortable as possible.