The research was led by researchers from Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and is published in the journal The Lancet.
The researchers randomly assigned 24 cancer clinics to offer regular care or early access to palliative care, which involved a range of services designed to help patients and their families cope with their illness.
Clinics in the regular-care arm of the trial would have either not offered palliative care at all, or provided a referral to a palliative-care team in the last two months of life.
The researchers got the 461 patients in the study to assess their care and quality of life using questionnaires that are typically used in this type of research.
Assessments at three months found few real differences between the two groups, but by four months those who had early access to palliative care scored higher for quality of life, symptom control and satisfaction with their care.
Lead researcher Dr. Camilla Zimmermann, head of the palliative-care program at Princess Margaret Hospital, says there is a misconception about what palliative care is.
Many people believe it is the type of care hospitals offer when they have exhausted all medical options. They think it means that the oncology teams, having run out of cancer-fighting tools, then hand off patients to people specialized in helping ease the final days of a dying person’s life.
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