Early Terminal Cancer Palliative Care Can Increase Quality of Life, Decrease Depression

Family caregivers of patients with terminal cancers could benefit from early palliative care.

A recent study found that early palliative care can result in better quality of life and decreased symptoms of depression for family caregivers of patients with terminal cancer.

The study, which will be presented at the 2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, included 275 family caregivers for patients with newly diagnosed incurable lung and gastrointestinal cancers. Family caregivers are classified as relatives or friends of the patient and are their primary caregiver.

Patients either received standard oncology care or early palliative care and standard oncology care. Family caregivers were not required to go to palliative care appointments with patients and they did not receive any specific interventions.

Researchers assessed the family caregivers at the beginning of the study, at 12 weeks, and 24 weeks, using questionnaires for quality of life and mood. At the 12-week assessment, researchers found family caregivers whose patients were receiving palliative care showed lower symptoms of depression compared with the caregivers of patients receiving standard oncology care.

There was a decrease in vitality and social functioning for caregivers of patients who received standard oncology care compared with caregivers of patients receiving palliative care, who saw an increase. However, at 24 weeks, researchers did not find a statistical difference between either treatment group regarding depression symptoms.

Since caregivers did not attend palliative care appointments, the findings indicate that the benefits observed were due to improved patient outcomes.

“This study suggests that early palliative care creates a powerful positive feedback loop in families facing cancer,” said lead study author Areej El-Jawahri, MD. “While patients receive a direct benefit from early palliative care, their caregivers experience a positive downstream effect, which may make it easier for them to care for their loved ones.”