Liver cancer is a serious disease that’s expected to affect more than 42,000 people in the United States in 2020, according to the American Cancer Society.
This type of cancer often doesn’t show signs until its later stages, which makes it difficult for doctors to detect early.
Liver cancer also tends to occur in people with a history of liver disease and other conditions, such as cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis B, or hereditary hemochromatosis, making it a complex type of cancer to treat and cope with.
Treatment options for liver cancer may include:
- organ transplant
- surgical removal of tumors
- ablation of liver tumors
- radiation therapy
- targeted drug therapy
Palliative care can complement your curative treatments and help improve your quality of life.
- offer an additional layer of support for you and your family
- help you weigh out various treatment options
- provide medication and coping strategies to ease your symptoms
- help you coordinate care between your various providers
You can begin palliative care right after you’re diagnosed with any serious disease, including liver cancer.
Keep reading to learn more about palliative care and how it can help people with liver cancer.
Palliative care is a tool used to help improve the quality of life for people who have a serious disease.
It’s focused on helping you manage and relieve symptoms of the illness, not finding a cure. Palliative care may be offered in addition to treatment for the disease itself.
Palliative care teams may consist of healthcare providers and caregivers from a variety of disciplines, including:
- palliative care specialist doctors and nurses
- mental health professionals
- pain specialists
- social workers
They’ll leverage the expertise of everyone on the team to address your physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social needs.
This team isn’t the same medical team responsible for treating your cancer, but they’ll communicate and coordinate with them.
Your palliative care team can help ensure you pursue the treatment options that best align with your goals.
You can start palliative care from the moment you’re diagnosed with a serious disease. It’s different from hospice care, which is only available during the last stage of a terminal illness.
However, hospice uses some of the same methods as palliative care to help you manage your symptoms and stay comfortable.
There’s no need to wait for your cancer to progress to an advanced stage before seeking palliative care.
The American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) recommends that people with cancer receive early palliative care and have a palliative care consultation within 8 weeks of receiving their diagnosis.
Palliative care can help improve your quality of life when you’re coping with liver cancer and undergoing treatments.
You’ll start the process with a palliative care consultation. You can prepare for the appointment by making a list of symptoms you’re experiencing and noting how they affect your daily life.
You should also let the palliative care specialist know which medications and supplements you’re taking.
Your palliative care consultation will involve an in-depth discussion about your treatment, your symptoms, and the effects of liver cancer on you and your family.
Then, you’ll work together to develop a goal-focused plan to ease symptoms and maximize your quality of life.
Palliative care plans vary widely among people with liver cancer due to the complicated nature of the disease and the high likelihood of coexisting conditions.
It may involve one or more of the following services:
- management or relief of symptoms from liver cancer, including pain, fatigue, ascites, weight loss, nausea, anxiety, depression, shortness of breath, and skin problems
- advance care planning that focuses on your definition of “quality of life”
- completing advance directives
- psychosocial support, such as referrals to support groups or art therapy programs
- spiritual or religious activities
- support and advice for treatment decision-making, stress management for you and your family, and other concerns
- care coordination between your various health care specialists
According to the National Cancer Institute, research shows that early palliative care for people with advanced cancer can result in a better quality of life and improved mood.
Palliative care can be provided in a range of settings. It’s often provided in your home if you’re an outpatient or in the hospital during a short-term stay.
Talk to your doctor about where to find palliative care in your area. They can refer you to a palliative care team.
You can also research where to find palliative care through the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) or the Center to Advance Palliative Care’s provider directory.
Health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, usually covers the cost of palliative care. Check your policy to see if there are any limits on palliative care and learn more about what’s covered.
Liver cancer can be a complex disease that can affect your day-to-day life. It’s never too early to seek palliative care. It can be provided in addition to treatment for your disease.
Your first palliative care consultation should occur within 8 weeks of your liver cancer diagnosis.
Your palliative care team will work with you to develop a plan to:
- improve your quality of life
- manage your symptoms
- get supportive psychosocial care
Talk to your oncologist to find a palliative care specialist near you.