Palliative Care vs. Supportive Care: What’s the Difference?

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Topics include: Living Well and Understanding

How do you define palliative medicine today? Andrew Schorr and lung cancer experts Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Christine Lovly of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center discuss how palliative care has evolved over the last 10 to 15 years. Watch to hear their expert opinions on this important area of cancer support.

The Living Well with Lung Cancer series was a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power. We thank Celgene, Helsinn, Novartis and Genentech for their support.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Andrew Schorr:

Let's go over to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston now where we're joined by another medical oncologist.  She is also a palliative medicine specialist, and that's Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah.  Thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Subbiah. 

Dr. Subbiah:

Of course.  It's a pleasure.  Thank you for having me here.  I'm looking forward to the conversation today. 

 

Andrew Schorr:

Hey, I have a question for you right off the bat.  So we said besides being a medical oncologist you're a specialist in palliative medicine. 

One used to think of palliative medicine as just helping people at end of life, but that's not true.  How would you define it today?  

Dr. Subbiah:

So palliative medicine has really undergone an evolution, and that's really happened over the past 10 to 15 years.  And it's—palliative care, the first thing that comes into someone's mind is end?of?life care, and that is a very important part of what I do on a day?to day basis, is to take care of people and their families towards the end of life with any condition, doesn't have to be cancer, heart failure, renal failure, whatever it may be.  

Palliative care has evolved into something much bigger.  The reality is is that at any point from a diagnosis onward, so any condition, a person has symptoms, things that are related to that diagnosis, as a result of that diagnosis that's affecting their lives. 

And so, we've expanded the field of palliative care to involve—to be able to provide care even earlier in the stage of whatever illness that person is going through, and so we call that supportive care, because it is—it's not end?of?life care.  It is supportive care.  We're supporting you by identifying whatever it is that's affecting your quality of life and helping you through your treatment for whatever the diagnosis may be. 

And so, at our practice here at MD Anderson most of the people and the families that I take care of, they're going through treatment, and they're handling it fine. And we're helping them with that by identifying what's affecting them most, whether it's pain or nausea or whatever it may be, and working with them through that. 

Andrew Schorr:

So, Christine, you're nodding your head.  So, it's a team approach these days, isn't it, and it's—what's important is one part of the team is the patient and/or the family member speaking up. 

Dr. Lovly:

Absolutely.  In today's world of cancer medicine, it is very common for patients to have multiple doctors. 

You may have a medical oncologist like Dr. Subbiah and myself, a radiation oncologist, a surgeon, a supportive care doctor, your primary care doctor.  It is absolutely wonderful to have this big team of people around you thinking about how best to help patients in every way possible.  

It can also be a little confusing for patients too to try to think about who is the quarterback of my team. 

And I tell patients that think of their medical oncologist as the quarterback and that your doctors can help you communicate with all of the other doctors and bring together that team in a way that's going to provide the best symptom support and the best outcomes possible for the patient and their family members.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on December 20, 2017