Palliative care and hospice care are forms of supportive care available to people with cancer. Supportive care focuses on providing comfort, relieving pain or other symptoms, and improving quality of life. Supportive care doesn’t cure disease.

The main difference between these two types of care is that you can receive palliative care at the same time you are receiving treatment, whereas hospice care begins after stopping standard cancer treatments for end of life management.

Keep reading to learn more about palliative and hospice care.

Women with advanced ovarian cancer may receive palliative care along with standard treatments, such as chemotherapy. Among others, the main purpose of palliative care is to make you feel as good as you can for as long as possible.

Palliative care can address the physical and emotional side effects of ovarian cancer treatment, including:

Palliative care may involve:

  • medications to treat symptoms such as pain or nausea
  • emotional or nutritional counseling
  • physical therapy
  • complementary medicine, or therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, or massage
  • standard cancer treatments with the goal of alleviating symptoms but not curing the cancer, such as chemotherapy to shrink a tumor that’s blocking the bowels

Palliative care may be provided by:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • dietitians
  • social workers
  • psychologists
  • massage or acupuncture therapists
  • chaplains or clergy members
  • friends or family members

Studies suggest that people with cancer who get palliative care have improved quality of life with reduced severity of symptoms.

You may decide at some point that you no longer wish to receive chemotherapy or other standard cancer treatments. When you choose hospice care, it means that the goals of treatment have changed.

Hospice care is usually offered only at the end of life, when you’re expected to live less than six months. The aim of hospice is to care for you rather than attempt cure the disease.

Hospice care is very personalized. Your hospice care team will focus on making you as comfortable as possible. They will work with you and your family to create a care plan that best suits your goals and needs for end-of-life care. A hospice team member is generally on call 24 hours a day to provide support.

You may receive hospice care in your home, a special hospice facility, a nursing home, or a hospital. A hospice team usually includes:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • home health aides
  • social workers
  • clergy members or counselors
  • trained volunteers

Hospice services may include:

  • doctor and nurse services
  • medical supplies and equipment
  • medications to manage pain and other cancer-related symptoms
  • spiritual support and counseling
  • short-term relief for caregivers

Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans will cover hospice care. Most U.S. insurance plans require a statement from your doctor that you have a life expectancy of six months or less. You may also be asked to sign a statement that you accept hospice care. Hospice care can continue for longer than six months, but your doctor may be asked to give an update on your condition.

Your doctor, nurse, or someone from your cancer center can provide more information on hospice care and palliative services available in your community. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization includes a database of national programs on their website.

Getting supportive care, whether palliative or hospice, can be beneficial to your mental and physical well-being. Talk to your doctor, family, and friends about your supportive care options.