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Pain Relief Often Delayed for Cancer Patients

Referrals to palliative care programs come too late, survey finds

TUESDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Palliative care services, which help people who are seriously ill relieve symptoms such as pain, are now found at most U.S. cancer centers, but many programs don't interact with patients until it's too late, study findings show.

Dr. David Hui, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and his colleagues surveyed 71 U.S. National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers and randomly surveyed 71 other cancer centers. They received responses from 71 percent of 142 executives and 82 percent of 120 program leaders.

The researchers also found that the NCI cancer centers were more likely to have palliative care programs and physicians. A report on the survey was published in the March 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Palliative care outpatient clinics, inpatient consultation teams, palliative care units and hospices all play an integral role providing symptom control, psychosocial support and transition of care for patients with cancer and their families along the cancer care continuum," the study authors wrote. "Based on this understanding, multiple national and international organizations support early incorporation of palliative care into oncology practice."

However, the researchers found that "palliative care patients were referred too late in the disease trajectory, a marker of limited access and integration."

"Although most cancer centers now have a palliative care program, significant gaps and delays in the delivery of care remain," Hui's team concluded.

More information

The Center to Advance Palliative Care has more on palliative care.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, March 16, 2010

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