Hospice care is a philosophy of care that tries to help patients in the last months of their lives get care that is in line with their wishes. This care addresses physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual comfort.
Hospice programs strive to give a sense of control to people at the end stage of a terminal illness, such as metastatic breast cancer.
Hospice care provides support services to patients and their families. They help them through the dying process and when they are grieving.
Because hospice programs personalize care, they can help preserve quality of life and allow a person to die as comfortably and with as much dignity as possible.
Hospice care does not aim to shorten or prolong life, but rather to enhance the time remaining as much as possible .
Palliative care focuses on relieving or preventing symptoms (such as pain, fatigue, anxiety or depression), rather than treating the cancer. It’s an extra layer of care that can be given along with treatments for the breast cancer.
Palliative care is a standard part of metastatic breast cancer care. Palliative care specialists partner with your oncology team to manage symptoms. They also address emotional, social and spiritual distress .
Once treatment for the cancer ends, palliative care becomes the main focus, rather than just a part of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
To find a palliative care specialist near you, visit PalliativeDoctors.org or the Get Palliative Care website.
Learn more about managing pain.
Hospice programs provide comprehensive palliative care and can improve quality of life for patients and caregivers [84-85].
Palliative care specialists and hospice care providers can help with advance care planning. They can help patients identify the goals and values that will guide their care.
Understanding a person’s worries and fears about their health, including the things they feel are vital to quality of life, also helps guide care.
It may be helpful to see examples of questions a palliative care specialist or hospice care provider may ask, such as those in the Serious Illness Conversation Guide.
Hospice care is most often given at home, where the patient is usually the most comfortable .
Sometimes, hospice care is given as in-patient care at a freestanding hospice house or at a hospital with hospice services. Some people prefer to get hospice care in these settings and sometimes, certain situations prevent someone from staying at home.
A typical hospice care team includes a:
Most often, a family member becomes the primary caregiver, with guidance and support from the hospice team.
Family members or other caregivers provide care about 22 hours a day. A hospice nurse and home health aides help the other 2 hours.
Hospice care can begin when a person has a life expectancy of 6 months or less, if the disease takes its usual course (as estimated by the person’s doctor and confirmed by the hospice program’s medical director) .
Some hospice programs only enroll people who have stopped active cancer treatment.
Others enroll people who are still getting cancer treatment (sometimes called “open access” programs).
A “DNR” (do not resuscitate) order isn’t required to enroll in a hospice program. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can still be given if a person stops breathing or their heart stops beating.
Although a survival time period is set for enrollment, hospice care doesn't have a time limit.
A person enrolled in a hospice program may live longer than 6 months and hospice care will continue.
The cost of hospice care is covered by:
Hospice programs cover the cost of the health care team as well as any medicines, therapies, counseling, equipment and supplies related to care .
Talk to your insurance provider about the details of your coverage.
Although treatment for the cancer may stop once hospice care begins, treatments to improve quality of life and ease symptoms continue.
This care includes [93,97]:
Hospice care provides special support to caregivers.
Home health aides can give caregivers a break. And, when a caregiver is called away or needs a longer break, hospice care can be moved to an in-patient facility for up to 5 days a month .
The hospice team may be able to help ease some of the depression and emotional burden caregivers often feel during this time .
Grief and bereavement (loss) counseling are important parts of hospice care. This counseling begins while the patient is alive and continues for a year after the patient has died.
Hospice care at any time is helpful, but enrolling earlier rather than later is better for the patient and the family.
The earlier the enrollment, the more time the hospice team has to get to know the patient and the family so they can give the best personal care possible.
If your oncologist feels you may live only a number of months, it’s an ideal time to enroll in a hospice program.
Discussions about end-of-life care are very difficult.
As hard as it can be to talk to your family and health care providers about end-of-life issues, these discussions help ensure your wishes are carried out [99-100].
With your guidance, hospice care can make the later stage of cancer care as comfortable as possible for you and your family.
Learn more about metastatic breast cancer.
Learn more about managing pain.
American Academy of Hospice and Palliative MedicineOffers information on end-of-life planning and hospice, including a list of questions to help you assess hospice care programs.www.palliativedoctors.org
American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Offers a guide for patients and their families to help make decisions on end-of-life care.www.cancer.net/
National Hospice and Palliative Care OrganizationOffers information on end-of-life planning and care for patients and families.www.nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers
National Institutes of Health (NIH)Offers information on end-of-life planning and care, including questions to ask your provider. www.nia.nih.gov/health/end-of-life
This can be a very hard time for you and your family. Your health care provider or hospital can arrange for counseling or a support group to help you address and manage the feelings and emotions that come with this stage of cancer care.
Support for family and loved ones is also important.
Learn more about counseling and other types of support for people with metastatic breast cancer.
Learn about support for family and loved ones.
SUSAN G. KOMEN® SUPPORT RESOURCES
Learn more about what Komen is doing to help people with metastatic breast cancer.
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date.
Facts for Life: End-of-Life Care
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