Sarah Cannon - November 28, 2016

Commonly mistaken for hospice care, palliative care is a type of outpatient care that is available to improve the quality of life for patients who have a potentially life-threatening disease.

Palliative care aims to prevent or treat, as early as possible, the symptoms or side effects of your disease, in addition to related psychological, social and spiritual needs. The main objective is not to cure your disease, but instead to learn skills to cope with it and live a more comfortable life.

"The ultimate goal of palliative care is to make you and your family more comfortable with dealing with the illness and achieving the best possible quality of life," said JaLisa Boyd, oncology survivorship navigator at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare. "One can receive palliative care at the same time they are pursuing a cure for their illness, like cancer treatment, for example."

Although palliative care serves many patients who are actively battling life-threatening illnesses, many patients who are cured or going through remission also receive palliative care. Others may move in and out of care on an as-needed basis.

JaLisa Boyd and Katie Navarte
JaLisa Boyd and Katie Navarte, survivorship navigators, Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare

"The biggest difference in palliative care and hospice care is that palliative care is focused on relieving negative symptoms of a disease whether or not it can be cured," says JaLisa. "Hospice care is usually for people whose disease is advanced and it focuses on pain relief and comfort."

Palliative care can often be a component of cancer survivorship care, focusing on both physical and psychosocial needs, and aimed at enhancing quality of life. This type of care is completely optional for patients, but may be a good choice as you transition into your new life of survivorship.

In Dallas/Fort Worth, JaLisa and coworker Katie Navarte help lead survivorship support groups throughout the community to connect survivors from around the region, so they can share their stories with others who share many of the same obstacles.

Although palliative care is not cancer-specific, it can be beneficial to current and former cancer patients. Palliative care can help reinforce the knowledge that you aren't alone, and also provides a strong support group behind you at all times. If you have questions about palliative care and resources near you, you can speak to a registered nurse through askSARAH .