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There are many different types of treatment for cancer. Some are curative, while some are palliative.

Palliative care is treatment used to provide symptom relief and improve quality of life. It’s not used to cure an illness. While palliative care is often thought of as part of end-of-life care, it can also be used alongside curative treatment and at any time during an illness.

In cancer care, palliative chemotherapy may be part of your treatment. The goals of palliative chemotherapy look different from that of chemotherapy meant to cure someone of their cancer.

In this article, we’ll look at palliative chemotherapy, pros and cons, and when it’s typically used.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to target and destroy fast-growing cells in the body. Cancer cells grow and multiply faster than healthy cells, which is why chemotherapy is often used to treat cancer.

Chemotherapy is typically recommended in two situations:

  1. to treat cancer and keep it from coming back
  2. to help shrink the cancer, reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and possibly prolong life

When chemotherapy is used in the second situation, it’s called palliative chemotherapy.

Palliative chemotherapy is typically used when the cancer has spread and chemotherapy is not being used to cure the cancer. The main goal of palliative treatment is to improve quality of life. By its very definition in the medical field, it is not curative.

As with any medical treatment, there are pros and cons to palliative chemotherapy. The decision to prescribe palliative chemotherapy can be a difficult one. Sometimes doctors prescribe treatment for those who don’t have much time left and do not benefit from it, or they under-treat someone who would benefit from it.

The decision to prescribe palliative chemotherapy needs to be weighed against:

  • life expectancy
  • current symptoms
  • whether side effects would reduce, rather than improve, quality of life

Talking with your doctor about possible pros and cons can help you make an informed decision about whether palliative chemotherapy is the right decision for you.

Pros of palliative chemotherapy

  • improved quality of life
  • reduced symptoms
  • reduced pain
  • possible prolonged life expectancy

Cons of palliative chemotherapy

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Potential side effects from palliative chemotherapy

Talk with your doctor about the potential side effects from treatment. Depending on the specific drug used, these can include:

  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • mouth sores
  • hair loss
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • easy bruising
  • constipation
  • concentration problems

Palliative chemotherapy can be used for a variety of cancers. The type of cancer is less important than the stage of the cancer, although it may help determine the type of chemotherapy drugs used.

There are certain cancers for which palliative chemotherapy has shown specific significant benefits, including:

More research needs to be done to explore the potential benefits of palliative chemotherapy for people with other forms of cancer.

If your cancer is advanced and treatment has moved from being curative to palliative, talk with your doctor about your treatment options. Questions can include:

  • what is the likelihood my cancer will respond?
  • how long will the treatment last?
  • what side effects can I expect?

Talking with your doctor can help to clarify your treatment goals. Clarify what you hope to get out of the treatment and what you can expect while on palliative chemotherapy.

Palliative care is important in relieving symptoms and improving quality of life. Palliative chemotherapy can be part of that, particularly for the treatment of cancer.

There are pros and cons to consider with this form of treatment. Talk with your doctor about whether palliative chemotherapy is the right choice for you.