Palliative Care - What is it?

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is essentially about providing the care we need to make sure that we are able to live our lives as well as possible right to the end of our lives. A palliative treatment is one that isn't expected to cure a condition. However, palliative care involves much more than this.

Many people fear the idea of palliative care as they wrongly think that if they are being offered palliative care, they must be dying. Whilst this might have been the case in the past, nowadays, partly due to medical advances, many more people now 'survive' killer diseases. Living with a life-threatening disease is now very common and many people will receive palliative care for an illness that won't ultimately be what leads to their death - which may well be many years, if not decades, later.

What does palliative care offer?

The aims of palliative care are:

  • To affirm life but also to regard death and dying as normal.
  • To provide relief from pain and any other symptoms.
  • To neither speed up nor delay death.
  • To encourage psychological and spiritual needs to be brought into mainstream patient care.
  • To provide the support people need to allow them to live as actively as possible until they die.
  • To offer support to a patient's family and friends during the patient's illness and when they are bereaved.

Who is palliative care for?

Modern palliative care has its roots in the hospice movement that was begun by Dame Cicely Saunders. She believed that no one should be told: "... nothing more could be done", as "there is always so much more to be done."

For many years, palliative care meant caring for people who had been diagnosed with incurable cancer. Nowadays though, palliative care is being extended to anyone with an illness which is life-threatening. So it continues to be appropriate for people with cancer but it is also becoming available for people with other life-threatening illnesses, such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and dementia.

Some aspects of palliative care can even be used in combination with treatments that are expected to cure a disease - if that extra care will ease suffering and improve quality of life.

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Dr Jacqueline Payne
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
29419 (v1)
Last Checked:
04 July 2017
Next Review:
03 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.