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Palliative care

Palliative care focuses on quality of life and support for people living with serious illness, their caregivers and loved ones.

“Considerable evidence is now available on the value of palliative care for lung cancer patients in all stages and at all times during the course of the disease.”*

What is palliative care?

There is a common misconception, even among medical professionals, that palliative care means end-of-life care.

Palliative care is a broad description of any care providing during any point in one’s illness that is intended to reduce suffering and improve quality of life for an individual living with a life-limiting illness. Palliative care is given manage symptoms, reduce pain and/or provide psychological, social, emotional, spiritual or practical support. End-of-life care or "hospice care" is only one type of palliative care.

Palliative care can be provided at the same time as treatments for curing or controlling illness. It is not tied to a specific outcome (survival or death).

Palliative care is not provided by one individual or one profession — it’s a team approach that involves primary care providers, specialists, social workers and more.

Palliative care can be provided in a medical setting, in long-term care or at home. It can include:

  • medication, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy given to relieve symptoms
  • counselling and other psychosocial supports to address feelings such as depression or anxiety that are common in people with life-limiting illness
  • home and community care including respite for family caregivers or homemaking assistance

Your voice, preferences and goals are a crucial part of your palliative care plan. Your plan should be created through shared decision making, in which any decisions regarding your care are made together with you, your family and your care team. Your palliative care plan is not the same as an advanced care plan, which is used at a time if/when you cannot make your own decisions or make your decisions known.


Discussing palliative care with your care team

It’s never too early to discuss palliative care with your care team. Here are some questions you may want to ask during those conversations.

  • How do I know if I need palliative care?
  • Does palliative care mean that I’m dying?
  • What happens if my symptoms get much better? Much worse?
  • Can I still receive treatment to cure/control if I’m receiving palliative care?
  • How is palliative care different from the care I’m receiving now?
  • What are the benefits of palliative care?
  • Will I be able to have a say in what palliative care I receive and when?
  • Where/how do I get palliative care?
  • Who will provide my palliative care?
  • Is there a cost to receiving palliative care?
  • What’s the difference between a palliative care plan and an advanced care plan?

For more information, see the Government of Canada’s overview of palliative care


* from T. Blum & N. Schönfeld. The lung cancer patient, the pneumologist and palliative care. European Respiratory Journal 2015 45: 211-226.


This section was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Merck Canada, Sanofi Canada and Astra Zeneca Canada.

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