February 2017

Palliative Care: A Collaborative Way to Fight Cancer

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Palliative care, with its focus on providing relief from not just physical symptoms but also pain, mental stress and psychological trauma that a cancer patient nearing death suffers, has become an integral part of the National Cancer Control Programme. Dr Sushmita Ghoshal, Head, Department of Radiotherapy at PGIMER, shares her experience and vision on this pioneering treatment with Priya Yadav of Elets News Network (ENN).

Medical care for people afflicted with cancer is no more restricted to just treating the disease physically. With more than two third of patients queuing up in the Regional Cancer Centre at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) palliative care, the institute has formulated what is now called the “Chandigarh Model” to provide comprehensive care.

With an increase in number of cancer patients and rising morbidity, palliative care, which is a specialised medical care for those with terminal illness, has become an integral part of National Cancer Control Programme as well. A multi-disciplinary approach, palliative care focus is to provide relief from not just physical symptoms but also pain, mental stress and psychological trauma that a patient nearing death suffers.

More nurses are showing inclination for doing palliative care courses than doctors. The basic principle that we are following at PGI is to learn about the basic ingredients of palliative care and apply it to everyday practice

PGI’s initiative and quality of treatment provided has earned it accreditation from European Society for Medical Oncology as ESMO Designated Centre of Integrated Oncology and Palliative Care for 2016 to 2018

Dr Sushmita Ghoshal
Head, Department of Radiotherapy at PGIMER

The head of department of Radiotherapy at PGIMER, Dr Sushmita Ghoshal, who is also in-charge of the Regional Cancer Centre at the institute, shares her experience and vision. “Palliative care has come a long way in the past decade or two but has still a long way to go. In a country like ours it would be too much of a luxury to have dedicated and specialised palliative care. So we have come up with a unique model, referred to as Chandigarh Model, where multiple disciplines are working as a unit and taking care of the patient’s multiple problems,” says Dr Ghoshal. This means that radiation oncologists are coming together with psychiatrists, and doctors from various other departments to tackle the physical, psychological, economical and even spiritual issues of the patients facing death.

PGI is running a certificate course for counselling patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Though palliative care is more associated with cancer disease, it is relevant and necessary for any illness that is terminal – be it kidney failure, stroke or any other disease that cannot be cured. “More nurses are showing inclination for doing palliative care courses than doctors. The basic principle that we are following at PGI is to learn the basic ingredients of palliative care and apply it to everyday practice. So, no matter where the doctor or the nurse goes they can still practice as much as they can,” says Dr Ghoshal.

Somehow, palliative care is more organised and available in the southern states of India compared to northern states. North of Delhi, PGIMER is the only centre that is providing palliative care. Besides regular out-patient department, the institute is running home care and a 20 bed hospice in collaboration with Red Cross.

PGI’s initiative and quality of treatment provided has earned it accreditation from European Society for Medical Oncology as ESMO Designated Centre of Integrated Oncology and Palliative Care for the period 2016 to 2018. This was declared at the 18th ECCO-40th ESMO European Cancer Congress held at Vienna, Austria in September 2015. PGI is the only government centre in the country to earn this distinction.

The number of cancer patients who are queuing up at PGIMER for treatment has been going up every year. Last year, 6,236 new patients sought treatment at the Regional Cancer Centre. Out of these, two-thirds would require palliative care, says Dr Ghoshal. “Our misfortune is that we get patients when they are in advanced stage. Early detection is the key to treatment. So, now we are trying to spread awareness as much as we can. We are trying to catch them young – we organised a flash mob in Sector 17 to catch people’s attention and then involved them in an interaction about cancer. There are many cancers like that of breast, cervix and oral which can be treated completely if detected early.”

Apart from caring comprehensively for patients facing imminent death, PGIMER is going all out to make people aware that they can adopt a healthy lifestyle to prevent cancer and, if afflicted, save life by reporting early.

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