Alex O'Brien


Cancer patients are not getting palliative care due to stigma

Cancer patients are not getting palliative care due to stigma

I think we can all agree that death is the most difficult thing to come to terms with. Whether it’s someone close to us or even perhaps ourselves, loss can seem simply unbearable. Sadly, because the idea of a terminally ill person accepting their fate calmly can be difficult to comprehend for those of us lucky to be in a better situation, a certain stigma has developed around those who opt for palliative care.

Despite the fact that early palliative care is recommended by the World Health Organisation for anyone suffering a serious illness, a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that negative attitudes from patients’ friends and family are preventing them from engaging these services.

The small but significant study assessed the cases of 48 cancer sufferers with a life expectancy of 6 to 24 months and their caregivers. According to lead researcher Dr Camilla Zimmermann, patients’ loved ones had warped (and often incorrect) perceptions of palliative care. “Patients and caregivers in our study saw palliative care as being equated with death, loss of hope, dependency, and going into places you never get out of again,” she wrote in the paper. “This is in stark contrast with the actual definition of palliative care, which is interdisciplinary care that provides quality of life for patients with any serious illness and their families, and that is provided throughout the course of the illness rather than only at the end of life.”

Palliative care is often seen as a last resort, but medical professionals are pushing for a greater acceptance of the services, believing they would be better received if it was not referred to as “palliative care” but rather as pain management.

Geriatrician Dr Anthony Caprio told Reuters palliative care needs to be reframed as “an extra layer of support”. “Who wouldn’t want more support, especially during a difficult illness?”

What do you think can be done to remove the stigma around palliative care? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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