Feeling Better During Ovarian Cancer Treatment, With the Help of Palliative Care


Benefits of Palliative Care

  • Palliative care aims to improve a patient’s quality of life during or after cancer treatment
  • Palliative care addresses both physical and psychological symptoms
  • It’s a more holistic approach to treating the whole person, not just their disease
  • A palliative care specialist can help women manage stress, pain, and side effects from their cancer and its treatments
  • Hospice care offers symptom and pain control at the end of life


The goal of palliative care is to help alleviate a patient’s symptoms to improve their quality of life—whether that’s during or after cancer treatment. Palliative care is often mistaken for hospice care, but they are actually two different things. Hospice care is for patients who are no longer receiving treatment for their cancer.

“I like to explain to my patients that if I’m sending them to a palliative specialist, I’m not sending them to hospice,” says Dr. Michael Ulm, gynecologic oncologist at West Cancer Center in Memphis, Tennessee.

While both palliative care and hospice care aim to make patients as comfortable as possible, palliative care works alongside a patient’s treatment plan so that they can have the best possible quality of life while fighting cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), palliative care is “an approach to care that addresses the person as a whole, not just their disease.”

Benefits of Palliative Care

“The idea of palliative medicine is to help alleviate the symptoms of either therapy or cancer during or after treatment, whether it’s neuropathy [nerve damage] from chemotherapy, pain from the cancer itself, depression, anxiety—treating the things that are outside of cancer,” says Dr. Ulm.

Palliative care goes hand in hand with ovarian cancer treatment.

“One of the nice things about having a palliative specialist here with me is that it allows me to focus a lot more on just treating the cancer and allows them to focus on treating the other things that are caused by the cancer—the anxiety, the stress, pain, and the side effects of the chemotherapy,” says Dr. Ulm.

When to receive palliative care is entirely up to the patient and her care team. A woman may choose to receive palliative care as soon as her treatment begins, which some experts recommend, or down the road when symptoms become less manageable. It is often a highly personalized approach.

Some examples of palliative care can include:

  • Pain control
  • Relief from symptoms like nausea, fatigue, swelling, and shortness of breath
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Psychological counseling for anxiety and depression

Benefits of Hospice Care

For patients who are no longer candidates for treatment or who are too sick for further therapy, hospice care can offer relief and pain control at the end of life. The focus of care at this point shifts from stopping the cancer to making the person feel more comfortable. Making the transition to hospice care is a big decision.

“As you can imagine, it’s a very long discussion and a long avenue to reach to where a patient and family elect for hospice care,” says Dr. Ulm. “We have a whole hospice team who can come and help care for that patient while they’re at home or in a hospice facility so that the families don’t have to…They do a great job at alleviating pain, anxiety, and a lot of the symptoms that are caused by advanced or recurrent cancer, to hopefully give the patient the highest quality of life that they can have with the time they have left.”

Palliative and hospice care are both important for women with ovarian cancer, providing a more holistic approach and another level of treatment that may alleviate stress and provide comfort. It’s important to talk to your doctor and care team about these options, and what will work best at your stage of treatment.


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