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Palliative Care: Improving Quality of Life With Ovarian Cancer at Any Stage

Posted on March 22, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Howard Goodman, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN

The term “palliative care” is often thought of as end-of-life care, or hospice care. However, people with ovarian cancer at any stage can benefit from palliative care. Palliative care services can ease ovarian cancer symptoms, help you deal with treatment side effects, and provide emotional and practical support for you and your loved ones.

Unfortunately, research shows that palliative care is often underused by many people with ovarian cancer. Nonetheless, several members of MyOvarianCancerTeam have described the positive impact palliative care has had on their other medical interventions.

One member shared, “Besides my ob/oncologist, I have a palliative care team that makes sure I am living the best I can. I haven’t had a lot of pain since the surgery, no nausea during chemo, minimal neuropathy, and I get lots of support when I’m not feeling well.”

Another member agreed, stating, “Yes, palliative care really helped me when I was at my lowest point during my first round of chemo.”

This article provides information about the different types of services available throughout your ovarian cancer journey.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is specialized support for people living with serious health conditions. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of an illness. The goal is to improve the person’s quality of life and the family's as well. Unlike hospice care, which begins when a person discontinues curative treatment, palliative care works alongside ovarian cancer treatments to improve the treatments’ effectiveness and help you feel your best.

Members of MyOvarianCancerTeam have discussed how palliative care fits into their current treatment plan. One member shared: “Palliative care keeps you comfortable, helps you get the care you need, and gives you extra support when you need it. Basically, they help you in any way they can while also working with your cancer doctor so you can have the quality of life you want. My palliative care team works mostly with cancer patients. It is not the same as hospice care, and you can keep trying different treatments.”

There’s no need to stop ovarian cancer treatment while receiving palliative care. For early-stage ovarian cancer, palliative care can help you come to terms with your diagnosis and prevent complication risk factors, like weight loss. In later-stage ovarian cancer, palliative care services can help you stay at home longer and transition to hospice if needed.

Managing Physical Symptoms and Side Effects

Palliative care teams are made of specialists who work together to address your concerns and help you understand your ovarian cancer treatment options. You may meet with various specialists, such as social workers, nurses, registered dietitians, physical therapists, psychiatrists, and massage therapists. People with ovarian cancer seek palliative care for issues like the frequent urge to urinate, back pain, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, nausea, constipation, and poor appetite or early satiety.

For example, a dietitian could help you develop strategies to prevent weight loss, such as eating smaller, more frequent meals or incorporating high-calorie snacks. A palliative care team also can help you address both the short-term and lasting effects of cancer treatment.

Palliative care can help you improve your strength and energy levels so you can keep up with the demands of daily life. In some studies, palliative care has also been shown to extend the life span of those living with a serious illness. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or have been dealing with it for a while, ask your health care provider for more information about palliative care services to improve your health and well-being.

Supporting Emotional, Spiritual, and Mental Health

For some people, having ovarian cancer brings up the desire to explore spirituality or religion as a source of support, or to explore a deeper meaning and understanding of life. Depending on your personal needs and beliefs, chaplains and other religious leaders can be included on your palliative care team.

An ovarian cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect the individual. Often, loved ones and caregivers need support and resources as well. One member of MyOvarianCancerTeam explained how palliative care helped her husband deal with her diagnosis. “My husband had a difficult time accepting my cancer,” the member wrote. “I have a wonderful nurse with palliative care that came to my house and explained everything to both of us. She is wonderful.”

Financial and Social Support

Palliative care can help with practical advice about how to manage day-to-day responsibilities. Filling out complicated medical forms, dealing with insurance companies, and finding housing and transportation are all potential topics of conversation families can have with a palliative care team. By involving a palliative care team early on, you’ll give yourself and your loved ones valuable support and access to assistance with care planning if unexpected or sudden changes occur.

As part of palliative care, a social worker can help you manage various aspects of living with ovarian cancer — transportation to your appointments, paying for medical care, applying for disability or medical leave, finding child care assistance, and communicating with your health care providers.

According to a member of MyOvarianCancerTeam, “I was having so many problems after chemo that I relied on my palliative care team to help me figure out which doctor needed to be contacted. I love my gyn/oncologist, and she’s always quick to answer, but I know she’s very busy. I also love my primary care doctor, but she is also very busy. Having the palliative care team is so helpful.”

Who Pays for Palliative Care?

Some palliative care costs are covered by health insurance, while others are not. Services may be provided in several settings, such as your home, an outpatient clinic, a hospital, a long-term care facility, or your doctor’s office. If you’re a veteran, you may have access to free or low-cost palliative care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Talk to your oncologist and health insurance carrier to learn more about your supportive care options.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyOvarianCancerTeam, the social network for people with ovarian cancer, more than 3,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with ovarian cancer.

Have you ever considered palliative care? What types of services are you interested in? If you already engage in palliative care, how has it benefited you? Share your story in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities Page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Howard Goodman, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and specializes in the surgical management of women with gynecologic cancer. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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