Early integration of palliative care can improve the quality of life of cancer patients and their families, experts said.
A majority of cancer patients end up living with physical and emotional distress which can ideally be addressed through holistic multidisciplinary palliative care. This is even more beneficial if provided early on in their treatment.
“We believe that when palliative care is introduced at an earlier stage, it has the potential to transform total health care. It looks at the totality of the patient, and not just the specific disease,” said Dr YK Hamied, Chairman, Cipla Ltd said, addressing a virtual roundtable on Early Integration of Palliative Care, Cipla Palliative Care & Training Centre Pune.
Despite evidence to prove this, access to early palliative care remains lacking in India due to misconceptions around it being seen as only end-of life care by both doctors and patients.
“There is inadequate exposure to palliative care in oncology training, and there are only a handful of people who have MDs in Palliative Care. The leadership at cancer centres in India needs to take responsibility for early integration,” added Dr C S Pramesh, Director Tata Memorial Hospital and Convener, National Cancer Grid.
During the course of the discussion, experts highlighted the urgency for collaborative action to include palliative care into India’s current healthcare systems and medical education through initiatives like palliative care OPDs, upskilling healthcare professionals and expanding home care services.
“The responsibility of a medical practitioner is to cure sometimes, relieve often, and to comfort always. And there exists no exception to this rule – suffering has to always be mitigated,” said Dr MR Rajagopal, Chairman, Pallium India.
As per the World Cancer Report (estimated cancer burden in India in 2018), there are about 1.16 million new cancer cases in India. However, it is estimated that only 4% get access to pain relief.
Findings from a survey of 200 oncologists across India conducted by Cipla Palliative Care & Training Centre in early January 2021, reveals that over and above the need to break the mindset of palliative care as end-of life care, there are also challenges with the use of opioids for pain relief.
“We hope that this Round Table discussion will spark new conversations and alliances about how we can best integrate palliative care into cancer treatment so that it becomes standard care practice. This Cancer Day, let us all come together to make all our actions count- let’s start talking about palliative care,” Rumana Hamied, Managing Trustee, Cipla Foundation said, outlining the objective of the panel as its moderator.
Other domain experts, part of the panel discussion, included Prof Richard Harding, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, UK; Dr Naveen Salins, Manipal Comprehensive Cancer Care Centre; Dr Anil D’Cruz, Union of International Cancer Control & Apollo Hospital; Dr Sushma Bhatnagar, Onco-Anaesthesia and Palliative Medicine, AIIMS and Dr Armida Fernandez, Romila Palliative Care.
The Round Table was the first in a series of initiatives started by Cipla Palliative Care & Training Centre under its #AshaHamesha Campaign – launched for World Cancer Day 2021 with the hope of making early palliative care a reality.