Incorporating palliative care into oncology practice: why and how

Qasim Hussaini, Thomas J. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The provision of specialty palliative care alongside oncology care is now recommended by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) on the basis of multiple randomized trials showing that it leads to better symptom control, less depression and anxiety, improved quality of life, improved caregiver quality of life, and even longer survival. That said, simply not enough palliative care specialists are available to provide concurrent care, so oncologists are tasked with providing the greatest part of primary palliative care. It is useful to think of primary palliative care as comprising 2 skill sets, or "bundles": the first symptom assessment and management, and the second communication. Symptom assessment begins with the use of a standardized scale that emphasizes the assessment of anxiety, depression, physical symptoms, and coping strategies. Communication requires knowing how much information the patient and family want, especially about prognosis, and involves shared decision making. It also encompasses advance care planning, starting with the identification of a medical power of attorney and proceeding to a discussion about hospice and end-of-life treatment choices. The communication skill set includes providing caregiver support and spiritual care referral, making culturally appropriate decisions, and providing a specific statement of non-abandonment near the end of life. If specialty palliative care is involved, data show that the effect on quality of life and end-of-life choices is most meaningful if consultation is started at least 3 months before death. In this article, we provide a brief overview of the benefits of incorporating palliative care into routine oncologic practice and offer clinical pearls on how best to deliver the tenets of palliative care in the outpatient and inpatient settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-395
Number of pages6
JournalClinical advances in hematology & oncology : H&O
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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