How hospice care can benefit cancer patients

Published: Friday, June 21, 2024
Erin Farlow, RN
Hospice of NGMC

Over the last few decades, advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer have made the disease more survivable. With that said, thousands of Americans still die of cancer each year. Hospice care can help when they near the end of life.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with some type of cancer in 2024 alone, including 63,170 Georgians. While great strides have been made to make cancer more easily diagnosed and treated, nearly 612,000 Americans will die from cancer this year.

As cancer progresses and the symptoms become unmanageable, there may be no further treatments available to cure the disease. When that happens, hospice can help patients and their families navigate the last weeks and months of life.

When to call hospice for cancer patients

Hospice care is available for people who are at the end of life, which is defined as having a life expectancy of six months or less. At that point, Medicare and many other insurance providers will pay for hospice services.

What is “end of life,” though? Someone is considered at the end of life when there is no further curative treatment available for cancer, or when that patient simply chooses not to seek further treatment for the disease.

While hospice care can begin once an oncologist or another medical provider determines a six-month life expectancy, hospice can continue for months and, sometimes, even years, if a patient continues to live past original life expectancy. Your provider and hospice team will discuss specific hospice eligibility criteria with you based on your diagnosis and staging of cancer.

Seeking hospice services is sometimes viewed as giving up on life. In reality, these services can provide a cancer patient with enhanced management of symptoms and renewed quality of life for the time he or she has remaining.

Wondering whether your loved one could benefit from hospice care? Hospice can help cancer patients who:

  • Are experiencing unintentional weight loss
  • Have cancer that is no longer responding to treatment
  • Have metastasized cancer, meaning cancer that has spread beyond the site of origin
  • Have other chronic medical conditions in addition to cancer that shorten life expectancy
  • Increasingly need more help with tasks of daily living
  • Wish to stay out of the hospital as cancer advances

Even if your loved one doesn’t yet need significant or intensive care, hospice services can help.

How hospice care can help cancer patients & their families

Patients who are enrolled in hospice care gain access to a number of services designed to maintain quality of life and attend to physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Think of it in these terms: Hospice care focuses on caring, not on curing.

While you may think of hospice as being a physical place, it’s actually a service that can be provided in a variety of settings. Many cancer patients choose hospice as they near the end of life so they can remain in the comfort of home rather than in the hospital.

Hospice services are often provided in the home, and they can also be provided wherever a patient calls home, such as in skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes), assisted living communities, in the hospital, and in freestanding hospice facilities. At Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, we’re working toward the creation of a freestanding Hospice House where patients can live out their remaining time in a beautiful, comfortable environment.

There are four different levels of hospice care depending on the specific needs of the patient and his or her family. A person in hospice can move from one level to another as needs change, such as when symptoms flare up temporarily.

Based on the patient’s needs, hospice services can include medical and nursing services, the provision of medical supplies and equipment, medications for managing cancer-related symptoms, counseling for the patient and his or her family, spiritual care, social work services, short-term inpatient care, and respite care to give caregivers a break.

These services are provided with the cancer patient in mind, but loved ones can also benefit, even after the patient passes away. Grief counseling and support is available through Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center for both adults and children, including our Camp Braveheart day camp.

A decision to enroll in a hospice program isn’t a final decision. If your loved one enters hospice care but then decides to seek further curative care, hospice services can be discontinued at that time.

Hospice is here to help cancer patients navigate the end of life, no matter what they need. If you need us, we’re here for you.

Learn more

Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center partners with you and your family to provide excellent care and enhance your quality of life. Call 770-219-8888 or visit our website for more information about how we can help.