Madrid, October 5, 2022-. According to the Spanish Cancer Association (AECC), 99,894 people1 require palliative care each year in Spain to achieve the highest possible quality of life and alleviate or treat the symptoms and side effects of their cancer processes. In this context, palliative care, aimed at symptom control, is also advancing. Particularly noteworthy is the pain management that is currently available. As explained by Dr. Mar Mendivil, coordinator of the Integral Support Unit (ISU) at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, and in charge of palliative care approaches, “we have increasingly effective medications with low levels of toxicity. In spite of that, our challenge is to control cancer pain keeping medication to a minimum, administering the most appropriate and least toxic”.
At the same time, if the situation allows it, palliative care is increasingly heading towards demedicalized approaches, applying various initiatives to improve the quality of life of patients from the emotional sphere. In many cases, patients may experience feelings of fear or hopelessness. "Non-medical treatments are being promoted, since there are other options we can propose like music therapy, pet support, they can bring part of their belongings to personalize their room, acupuncture and others that can be individualized after assessing the patient", explains Dr. Mendivil.
As a whole, palliative care must always focused on improving the patient's quality of life at the different stages of treatment, not only at the end of life. The specialist explains, "as each patient's cancer story progresses, the care they require is varies, with active cancer treatment being more important at the beginning, with medication, while maintaining control of symptoms, which gain importance in the advanced stages of the disease. For that reason, patients should know that there is a unit to which they can turn whenever they have questions from the first moment they are diagnosed”.
The family unit always contributes to better control of symptoms
The support of a patient's family is a great ally in improving their quality of life, by continuing the caregiving they require at home. “When the doctor treats the patient, he/she treats them as an individual patient. However, in palliative medicine, the family unit is treated. The family is very important at home, since they are the patient's caregivers following the guidelines, monitoring and supervision of health professionals.” She also adds that "by accompanying the patient, the family better understands and adapts to their situation, which helps prevent subsequent mourning from being pathological."
The different specialists integrated in the palliative care units, like psychologists, physiotherapists, nutritionists, volunteers and social workers, are of great help to cancer patients and their families. Among them, the psycho-oncologist stands out. "This figure is very important, since they relieve the patient's suffering and allow the family to speak and express themselves," says the specialist.
At the same time, communication between the multidisciplinary team of health professionals must be fluid, open and of quality so that patient care is the best.
1 Informe de la situación actual en cuidados paliativos (AECC): https://observatorio.contraelcancer.es/sites/default/files/informes/Situacion_cuidados_paliativos.pdf