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Palliative care can help patients when melanoma spreads

Is melanoma (or its treatment) causing symptoms like pain, nausea, or fatigue? Are you feeling stressed because you must choose which treatment you want? Do you feel frightened or depressed by your diagnosis?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider palliative (pal-lee-ah-tive) care.

What is palliative care, exactly?

Palliative care offers a specialized type of medical care for people who have a serious illness like cancer.

When you choose palliative care, you can get help from a team of health care professionals. You’ll find doctors and nurses on a palliative care team. They can help relieve physical problems like pain, loss of appetite, or insomnia. They can also help you choose the cancer treatment that feels best for you, given your goals and beliefs.

A palliative care team often includes other professionals who can help with problems that the cancer may be causing. A psychologist, social worker, or hospital chaplain may be part of this team. They can help solve practical problems like getting child care or rides to treatment. They can help with emotional problems like coping with depression or worry.

Palliative care doctor speaking with melanoma patient

Palliative care can ease symptoms like pain and provide emotional support during a serious illness.

Palliative care doctor speaking with patient

While getting palliative care, you can still treat your cancer. It differs from hospice care, which helps make a person’s final weeks or months more comfortable.

The goal of palliative care is to improve a patient’s quality of life during a serious illness. It can be helpful whether you have early or advanced skin cancer.

A patient with a serious disease can have palliative care at any age.

Family members who are caring for you or having a difficult time with your diagnosis can also receive palliative care. It can help them cope with issues and provide much-needed support during this difficult time.

Does research show palliative care helps?

Studies have looked at whether palliative care helps patients who have cancer.

One study found that cancer patients who received palliative care early did better than the cancer patients who received treatment without palliative care. In this study, those receiving palliative care early along with cancer treatment had:

  • Higher scores for quality of life

  • Fewer symptoms of depression

  • A longer life

Studies have also found that family or friends caring for a loved one with cancer can benefit from palliative care. It can help them feel less stressed.

How do patients get palliative care?

You ask for it. If you are interested, ask your dermatologist (or other doctor treating you for cancer) to refer you to a palliative care team.

You can also search for hospitals that offer palliative care on the Get Palliative Care website, Palliative care provider directory of hospitals.

Who pays for palliative care?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), health insurance usually covers palliative care services.

If you’re covered by Medicare or Medicaid, the NCI says the cost may be paid in some situations. For example, Medicare typically pays for palliative care when you’re in the hospital. Once you’re released, Medicare part B will only pay for the services of doctors and some nurses on the palliative care team.

To find out if you have coverage for palliative care, you can check with the financial counselor at your hospital.

How can I tell if palliative care could help me?

You’ll find a short questionnaire on the Get Palliative Care website. Taking a few minutes to answer these questions can help you decide if palliative care may be helpful for you or someone caring for you:

Take the quiz: Is palliative care right for you?

Getty Images

Fox MC, Lao CD, et al. “Management options for metastatic melanoma in the era of novel therapies: A primer for the practicing dermatologist, Part II: Management of stage IV disease.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2013;68:13.e1-13.

National Cancer Institute (NCI), Palliative care in cancer, Last accessed 1.31.2017.

Temel JS, Greer JA, et al. “Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer.” N Engl J Med 2010 August 19;363:733-42.