Ask The Cancer Experts: Dr. Camilla Zimmermann on Palliative Care

Here's your chance to Ask the Cancer Experts, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, a question. Dr. Camilla Zimmermann tackles the topic of palliative care and how it relates to a patient's quality of life. #conquercancer
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David: My question is what is being done to make the availability of in-home palliative care better known as an option for families?
We went to Dr. Camilla Zimmermann, head of the palliative care program at University Health Network, to tell us more about the effects of early palliative care.

Dr. Zimmermann: Thanks very much David, that's a really good question. So what I want to start off with is just a definition of what palliative care actually is because I think we sort of need to start there to answer the question.

What is palliative care?
Dr. Zimmermann: Palliative care is defined as multidisciplinary care that increases quality of life for patients with life-threatening illnesses. So it's actually not just for terminal cases, but all through the cancer course.

Who is part of the palliative care team?
Dr. Zimmermann: We have doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, etc. who work together to help control symptoms for patients with cancer, so that's pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

What are the other types of care the palliative team can provide?
Dr. Zimmermann: To provide psychological support for patients and also for their families, to help people navigate the health care system, to help plan for the future, and to help organize home care and community care. So those kinds of things are really relevant throughout the cancer illness, and not just at the very terminal stage. 

So palliative care can be used throughout treatment?
Dr. Zimmermann: Routine involvement of palliative care right at the get-go, right at diagnosis, can help improve quality of life, reduce depression, improve symptom control, and also even improve survival.

Is there a misconception around palliative care?
Dr. Zimmermann: Firstly I think patients are afraid of palliative care, so they're scared that if they ask for palliative care, get palliative care that will mean that they're dying. And, it could't be further from the truth, I think this is really what I call sort of confusing the umbrella and the storm. The storm is the cancer, and all the havoc it's wreaking on you and your family, and palliative care is really the umbrella that's protecting you from that.

How should we define palliative care?
Dr. Zimmermann: To redefine palliative care, which I think we've been doing for the last ten years, and help get the message out that it's just not at the end of life. And then also live that definition. So actually provide palliative care throughout the course of the illness is through clinics, for example. So we're not just providing palliative care in palliative care units and hospices and at home, but also right in the out-patient setting in the cancer centre.

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