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Improving Quality of Life: Using Palliative Care for MBC Patients

Palliative care, or symptom management, is considered the standard of care for patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and seeks to improve their quality of life. The Susan G. Komen® MBC Impact Series offered an exploration of palliative care in a panel interview featuring Palliative Care Specialist Dr. Kimberly Curseen of Emory Winship Cancer Institute and the Emory Palliative Care Center.

In her role as Director of Supportive and Palliative Care Outpatient Services, Dr. Curseen aims to help MBC patients understand that palliative care is “an extra layer of support for patients and their providers to help shore up their treatment plan.”

“The goal of a palliative care team is to provide support for the physical, spiritual and psychological symptoms, as well as social distress that accompanies people when they are going through a serious illness,” Dr. Curseen said.

While all hospice care is palliative care, not all palliative care is hospice, Dr. Curseen explained. “Hospice is the vehicle we use to deliver palliative care at the end of life,” and the goal of palliative care remains to ensure MBC patients have an increased quality of life.

When to Seek Palliative Care

It is important for MBC patients to understand that they are eligible for palliative care. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) guidelines dictate that a patient who has an advanced stage cancer like MBC should have access to an interprofessional palliative care team, Dr. Curseen explained. In addition to a palliative care specialist, registered nurse, spiritual health clinician and social worker, this team could include other specialists such as a counselors, child life specialist, pharmacist and other team members to provide supportive care.

“When the majority of the appointment is really focused on your symptoms, it can impact the time needed to help you navigate what to do for your cancer,” Dr. Curseen said. “That is usually the trigger” for oncologists to connect patients to palliative care resources. “Promoting your quality of life and managing your symptoms are a vital part of your cancer care.”

Some hospices in rural areas have community-based and in-home palliative care programs. While these programs may not be able to provide the range of palliative services available in larger cities, they remain excellent resources for patients and families. Dr. Curseen recommends that MBC patients use to learn which providers are available in their area.

The MBC Impact Series provides people living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones a safe, collaborative space to gather information related to MBC and discover practical resources to help make decisions for improved physical and emotional health. Click here to learn about this free education, along with upcoming dates and topics.