WEDNESDAY, Aug. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Palliative care is often thought of as a medical measure of "last resort."
But a new study suggests that starting palliative care early in the treatment of patients with advanced lung cancer can boost their quality of life, lift their mood and lengthen their lives.
Researchers compared 74 patients who received standard medical care with 77 patients who had palliative care added to standard care right after diagnosis.
"The patients who received palliative care in addition to standard care had marked improvement in quality of life, a 50 percent lower rate of depression and they lived 2.5 months longer than patients not receiving palliative care early," said study author Dr. Jennifer S. Temel, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a thoracic oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"In this disease, two months is a significant amount of time," she said. "We were all surprised with the magnitude of the impact."
The study is published in the Aug. 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Patients and their families have misconceptions about palliative care, said study co-author Dr. Vicki Jackson, acting chief of the palliative care service at Mass General. "I think one common misconception is that palliative care is a treatment only for patients in the final days and weeks of their lives," she noted.
Not so, she said. "Palliative care is a service -- a group of clinicians who help patients with serious illness focus on quality of life and help them live as well as they can, as long as they can," she explained.
For instance, palliative care can help patients deal with pain, anxiety and loss of appetite.
A typical palliative care team, Jackson said, includes doctors, social workers, nurse-practitioners and chaplains.
"Palliative care is not hospic
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