Palliative care isn’t just about making you comfortable if you have a life-threatening and incurable disease. Although not a cure, when you are in an advanced stage of cancer, palliative surgery can offer relief by helping to manage your symptoms, which can then improve your quality of life.
Factors Under Consideration
When deciding whether to recommend palliative surgical treatment of advanced cancer, a surgeon considers several factors, including the tumor’s location, its growth rate, and the chance that your cancer will spread to other parts of your body. Generally, slow-growing tumors with a low growth rate and low metastatic potential offer the best outcomes following surgery.
Before making a decision about surgery, you and your surgeon must weigh the benefits against the risks. Common post-operative risks include congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, heart attack, bronchopneumonia, respiratory failure, and infection.
Depending on your current health status, a surgeon will take into account the risks of surgery along with your ability to tolerate surgery. These are critical risk factors to consider even when it’s likely that surgery will help manage your pain or prevent additional symptoms from occurring.
Prior to recommending surgery, your surgeon will consider the stage of cancer when you were first diagnosed, the effectiveness of your previous treatment history, and the usual pattern the disease takes from the time of diagnosis. In view of these factors, he or she will also consider your anticipated life expectancy.
Goals of Palliative Surgery
For many people, improved quality of life is the major goal of cancer treatment. If the standard treatment proves ineffective, and a cure is unlikely, then your surgeon may recommend palliative surgery to control pain, bleeding, an ulcerating cancer wound, or the spread of cancer from the site of the original tumor.
Palliative surgery doesn’t mean giving up hope. A palliative care plan focuses on your goals, personal values, beliefs, and attitudes. Whether you want to extend the length of your life or improve the quality of your life for as long as you can, palliative surgery can help you feel better so that you can focus on living as healthily as possible.
When standard treatment is no longer effective — or isn’t effective alone — palliative surgery may be the answer to better symptom management. Palliative surgery may also reduce the amount of time you have to spend in the hospital for cancer treatment and disease-related complications.
If you choose palliative surgery — particularly early on following your cancer diagnosis — you may have less emotional issues like depression going forward. Pain causes emotional distress, but less physical pain can help you cope more effectively with your symptoms, other cancer treatments, and the unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment.
Along with decreasing anxiety and depression, relief from pain can help you sleep better so that you have more energy and feel less tired. The pain relief you get can also help you feel more positive and motivated to pursue cancer treatment, which can lead to a better treatment outcome.
Pain is a common worry of cancer patients, which is why your doctor may recommend surgical intervention when other less-invasive treatments have failed, or if you suffer intolerable side effects from cancer treatment. A surgeon will take into account the location and intensity of your pain, as well as any other symptoms your pain causes.
Although palliative surgery may not increase your long-term survival rate, by relieving your pain and other symptoms, surgery can help you remain functional so that you can maintain your independence.
Palliative surgery often contributes to treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, that fight cancer more effectively. Surgery may also slow the cancer’s growth and prevent or delay additional symptoms from developing.
You can receive both curative and palliative care throughout your cancer treatment. Palliative care, which may include palliative surgery, can begin when you are first diagnosed and continue along with curative treatments you receive. When standard treatments no longer control the symptoms of your cancer, palliative surgery addresses the pain and related discomfort.
Best Candidates for Palliative Surgery
You are a better candidate for palliative surgery if you are expected to live for years despite metastatic disease as opposed to an aggressive type of cancer with a shorter survival time. Both you and your surgeon should discuss whether an invasive treatment, such as palliative surgery, is the best choice for managing your symptoms.
Even in the presence of advanced malignancy, surgery may be a practical option for relieving cancer-related symptoms. Every case is unique; therefore, it’s important to consider surgery as a possible palliative measure that can improve your quality of life.
If you have questions about whether palliative surgery may be the right choice for you, contact The Surgical Clinic for more information. Our medical doctors and oncology surgeons can review your case and recommend the best treatment approach for you.