Palliative care

Palliative care

Palliative care (sometimes called supportive care) addresses the needs of people with a life-limiting illness in a holistic way. It provides individualised care to enhance your quality of life and make the time you have as valuable as it can be for you and your family. Palliative care may be beneficial for people at any stage of advanced cancer – it is not just for end of life.

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If you have been referred to palliative care, or if you are wondering whether palliative care is right for you, you may find it helpful to read our answers to key questions. You can also find out more about palliative treatment options and palliative care for young people. You can read more about the role of palliative care and how the care is provided below.

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The role of palliative care

Palliative care helps people with advanced cancer to live as fully and as comfortably as possible. The role of palliative care is to:

  • identify and help you manage your physical, practical, emotional, spiritual and social needs
  • help you achieve the best quality of life that you can for as long as possible
  • help you feel in control of your situation and make decisions about your treatment and ongoing care
  • provide support to families and carers.

This type of care can improve quality of life from the time of diagnosis, and can be given alongside other cancer treatments.

Palliative care involves a range of services offered by medical, nursing and allied health professionals, as well as volunteers and carers. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach.

Your care may be coordinated by your general practitioner (GP) or community nurse, or by the specialist palliative care team in your area. It may be provided in or out of the home.

Palliative care providers

Where possible, you and your family can choose where you want to receive palliative care. This may be:

  • at home (with support from community palliative care services and your GP)
  • at a specialist palliative care unit (sometimes called a hospice)
  • in a hospital
  • in a residential aged care facility.

Specialist palliative care services see people with the most complex needs, but can also provide advice to other health care professionals. These services can be accessed through:

  • many public and private hospitals (either as an inpatient or through an outpatient clinic)
  • palliative care units (hospices)
  • community-based specialist services.

If you think you need specialist palliative care, talk to your GP or oncologist about a referral to the service in your area.

Palliative care services

Services will be tailored to your individual needs, but may include:

  • relief of pain and other symptoms (e.g. nausea, vomiting)
  • equipment to aid care at home, such as wheelchairs or special beds
  • assistance for families to talk about sensitive or complex issues
  • links to other services such as home help and financial support
  • support for people to meet cultural obligations
  • counselling and grief support
  • support for emotional, social and spiritual concerns
  • referrals to respite care services.
Services offered in each state and territory vary. To find out what is available in your area, speak to your health care providers, contact your local palliative care organisation, use the directory of services at or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

What is Palliative Care?

Watch this video to see how palliative treatment aims to manage symptoms and improve people’s quality of life without trying to cure the disease.

This information was last reviewed in April 2017
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