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Palliative Care and End-of-Life Issues FAQs

Updated April 12, 2010

When should I stop treatment?

What are the benefits of hospice care?

How do I access hospice care, and will my insurance pay for it?

Q: When should I stop treatment?

A: Many treatments and clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer can effectively shrink tumors, relieve symptoms and extend life. But at a certain point in time, the cancer may stop responding to treatments and the side effects may become uncomfortable or intolerable. At this point, rather than continuing treatment, you may decide to explore palliative care options to make you more comfortable and improve your quality of life.

Well-meaning family members or others may pressure you to continue treatment. Despite wanting to please loved ones, you have to recognize your own needs and ultimately decide how you want to spend the rest of your life.

Keep in mind that ending treatment doesn’t mean you will stop receiving medical care. Your doctor can refer you to hospice services, where nurses will continue to make sure you get the treatments you need to be as comfortable as possible.

Reviewed by Evelyn Robles Rodriguez, RN, MSN

Q: What are the benefits of hospice care?

A: Hospice care is given to people with a terminal illness in their own homes or in a hospital, hospice or other facility. Hospice care is for people who are no longer pursuing a cure for illness. The aims are to:

  • Make you as comfortable as possible with pain-relief medicines and other medical supportive care
  • Help you with bathing, dressing and other daily living tasks
  • Provide psychological and spiritual support for you and your family

Because hospice workers are experts in delivering these tasks, you may find your care improves when you switch from cancer treatment to hospice care. Nurses and health aides often have more time to spend with you and your family, and hospice workers are usually available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to visit you as often as needed.

Although your doctor may still oversee your medical care, you and your family will get more emotional support from visiting social workers, clergy or volunteers who play key roles in your hospice care.

Reviewed by Steven D. Passik, PhD

Q: How do I access hospice care, and will my insurance pay for it?

A: Ask your doctor or hospital social worker about hospice resources in your area; a social worker can often make a referral with the required medical documentation.

Some hospitals have special home-like hospice wings, and many cancer treatment facilities offer hospice care at their centers or in people’s homes. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities may offer hospice care as well.

Most insurance companies pay for hospice care for those who qualify. Your doctor or social worker can tell you when you would qualify for a hospice program.

Reviewed by Steven D. Passik, PhD