Special Issue

Integration of palliative care in oncology – the intersection of cultures and perspectives of oncology and palliative care

28 Apr 2022
Tonje Lundeby, Marianne Jensen Hjermstad, Nina Aass, Stein Kaasa

Palliative care complements anti-cancer treatment, and may actually improve the therapeutic effect by optimising performance status, functioning, symptom management and quality of life, thus improving compliance to treatment. A series of randomised controlled trials investigating early integration of palliative care and oncology document clear benefits in patient-centred outcomes. Still, palliative care is often introduced late in the disease trajectory, if at all. One reason may be that that palliative care is perceived as end-of-life care only, a too common perception among healthcare providers, patients and the public alike. Another, and maybe the most important, reason is the cultural differences between the two disciplines, oncology and palliative care. While the predominant focus in oncology is treatment and cure of the disease, i.e., a tumour-centred focus, the focus in palliative care is the patient with the disease, i.e., the patient-centred approach. Integration of oncology and palliative care implies that these two cultures approach each other, collaborate and recognise that this is not an either or, but time to collaborate with the best interest of the patients. To accomplish this, an organisational model to provide optimal patient-centred palliative care is necessary at all levels. Such a model must structure the collaborations between different professions, across different levels and the patient flow between the silos in healthcare, and should describe the content of care. Using models like this is not common, and requires changes in systems and cultures on organisational, administrative, educational and individual levels. To successfully achieve profound changes is challenging. For example, it may be hampered by professional autonomy in the different disciplines and hinder collaboration and the achievement of a shared mental model. The use of standardised care pathways may be one way to integrate the tumour-centred and patient-centred approaches, reduce cultural barriers and improve patient care.

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