Hospice care is a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient's pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs. In Western society, the concept of hospice has been evolving in Europe since the 11th century.
Hospice care focuses on the quality of life rather than its length. It provides humane and compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.
The hospice philosophy accepts death as the final stage of life: it affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice care treats the person rather than the disease, working to manage symptoms so that a person’s last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice care is also family-centered – it includes the patient and the family in making decisions.
Hospice care is used when you can no longer be helped by curative treatment and are expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its usual course. Hospice gives you supportive or palliative care, which is treatment to help relieve symptoms, but not cure the disease. Its main purpose is to improve your quality of life. You, your family members, and your doctor decide when hospice care should begin.
Hospice often is not started soon enough. Sometimes the doctor, patient, or family member will resist hospice because they think it means “giving up” or that there’s no hope. This is not true. You can leave hospice and go into active cancer treatment any time you want. But the hope that hospice brings is a quality life, making the best of each day during the last stages of advanced illness.
Some doctors don’t bring up hospice, so the patient or family member might decide to start the conversation. If your treatment isn’t working anymore and you’ve run out of treatment options, you might want to ask your doctor or a member of your cancer care team about hospice.