Rise in Palliative Care Specialty Will Benefit Mesothelioma Patients

Doctor Discussing Options with Patient

Facing mesothelioma — a cancer with tough prognosis — is never easy for patients or families, but there is one comforting sign for everyone’s future.

Palliative Care is the fastest-growing trend in health care.

The reason? America’s rapidly aging population is demanding it.

Palliative care, in contrast to curative care, is designed specifically to relieve pain and stress from a serious illness, reduce symptoms and improve overall quality of life, regardless of diagnosis.

It often becomes the best hope for the majority of mesothelioma patients whose disease progression is often advanced by the time of a definitive diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is an exceptionally rare disease — diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 Americans a year — and it is not the impetus behind the rapid growth of palliative care. But it is an aggressive disease that can cause patients pain in a number of locations, and many of them have a desperate need for this kind of specialty.

Palliative Care on the Rise

The latest multi-disciplinary approach to aggressive treatment — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy — for mesothelioma was met with mixed results. This often leaves palliative care as the last resort.

An estimated 90 million Americans are living with a serious (and potentially terminal) illness, according to an ongoing and collaborative study done by the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) and the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC). And that number is expected to rise steadily in the coming years.

According to the Administration on Aging, there will be more than 72 million Americans over the age of 65 by the year 2030, more than double the number from 2000. By 2030, the over-65 population will account for more than 19 percent of America’s population.

The demand for palliative care is intensifying. And the business of medicine is working to meet that demand. The Palliative Specialty was not formally recognized by the medical community until 2007, but it has made huge strides in the past several years.

“Ten years ago, there were almost no palliative care programs in America’s hospitals,” wrote Sean Morrison, lead author of the Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospitals. “Today, 63 percent of hospitals with 50 or more beds provide a palliative care team.”

Palliative care is designed to provide an extra layer of support for patients, utilizing nurses, doctors, and other specialists, sometimes alongside similar medical professionals still in the curative phase of treatment.

Palliative Care Can Relieve Stress for All

The care often has been embraced by families, which feel more in control of their treatment choices, better about the help their loved one is getting, and better about their role in the process. It can relieve a tremendous emotional strain. The palliative care team addresses the family care givers and their roles in dealing with a life-threatening illness.

As part of the report, a Public Opinion Strategies poll concluded that 92 percent of the American public would consider palliative care for a serious illness – either for themselves or their family.

Mesothelioma patients, many in the latter stages of disease, are just a small percentage of the cancer patients who have benefited from the latest palliative care. Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively by an exposure to asbestos, which can lead to a number of serious illnesses.

According to a study chronicled in the New England Journal of Medicine, lung cancer patients who underwent palliative care showed significant improvement in quality of life, required less hospital care and lived an average of 2.7 months longer than those who received only disease-directed care.

It also contributed to a reduction in health care costs for patients. Considering that cancer-care costs are expected to rise an average of 72 percent in the next decade, the cost is no small factor in this growth.

‘Patient-Centered’ Approach to Health Care

Based on the 2012 Report Card, the number of palliative care teams at hospitals has grown 148 percent since 2000, going from 600 to more than 1,600. The latest figures showed that 65.7 percent of hospitals offered specific palliative care treatment.

What it did find, though, was that the availability of palliative care varied by region of the country.

In the Northeast, 75.8 percent of hospitals had a palliative care program. But the percentage of palliative care teams dipped in the Midwest (75.4) and West (71.4) and was significantly lower in the South (52.7 percent).

States with the highest percentage of palliative-care programs included Vermont (100 percent), Nebraska (93), Maryland (90), Minnesota (89), Oregon (88), Rhode Island (88), and Washington (83). Washington D.C. hospitals also had full coverage with 100 percent.

The lowest percentage of programs came in Oklahoma (30 percent), Alaska (29), Alabama (28), Delaware (20) and Mississippi (20).

“Despite rapid improvements over the last few years, people living with a serious illness still experience significant disparities in access to a hospital that provides palliative care,” wrote the authors of the study. “Palliative care offers a logical and patient-centered approach to improving medical care by focusing on quality of life.”

 Have you or your loved one been a part of a palliative care program? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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