If you have advanced cancer, deciding on next steps can be heart-rending. Making the decision to stop treatment and choose hospice can seem like giving up. For this reason, many people continue chemotherapy even when treatments are unlikely to help.
There’s a common misconception that hospice is only for the final days of life. Hospice is not about dying. It is about helping people live as well as they can in the time they have left. It’s about managing pain, easing the burden on caregivers and surrounding families with support. Hospice enables you and your family to focus on the time you have together.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology suggests that hospice is appropriate when you, in consultations with your doctor, decide that cancer treatments have stopped working and remission is no longer possible. Of course, each person is unique and symptoms vary with the cancer diagnosis. Ultimately, it’s the patient’s decision to pursue hospice, but there are signs the disease has progressed to the advanced stage.
- Your doctor does not think you will live for more than six months.
- There are no other treatments with more benefit than risk.
- You want to focus on quality of life for the time you have left.
Once you begin hospice, you can stop at any time if you change your mind or decide to seek curative treatment again. Learn the steps to begin palliative or hospice care.
Patients and their families tell us about the relief they experience when they go home and embrace what's most important in their lives. When medical treatments no longer help, hospice helps patients and families transition from a fight against disease to finding peace in their time together. Patients can sometimes pursue activities they love or start honest conversations that bring comfort to themselves or their loved ones.
Studies show palliative and hospice care can increase life expectancy for cancer patients. A 2007 study among Medicare beneficiaries with some of the most common terminal diagnoses found patients who received hospice care lived an average of 29 days longer than those not in hospice. The study, published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, looked at 4,493 patients with either congestive heart failure or cancer.
Hospice care also extends to the patient's family. Support includes short-term care relief for families, sometimes called respite care, spiritual support from a chaplain, professional emotional support and up to six months of grief support.
Hospice is a fully covered Medicare/Medicaid benefit. Care includes caregivers, medications, supplies and equipment related to the hospice diagnosis, with no out-of-pocket expenses. Consultative palliative care is also covered by Medicare and most private insurance.