Ending Cancer Treatment
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Tips to Help With Transitions

Here are some suggestions to ensure a smooth transition after treatment.

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By Damaris Christensen

Tough Transitions

The end of cancer treatment may leave a sense of loss

By Damaris Christensen


Unfortunately, the Ellis family’s experience is all too common. A study in the March 9, 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine found that during the transition to end-of-life care, fears about a loss of continuity of medical care and of the relationship between patient and physician were at the top of patients’ and families’ minds.

Photo by Sylvia PlachyAt the time of death or later, many patients and families felt abandoned by their medical team because of a lack of closure to these relationships, says the study’s lead author, J. Randall Curtis, a pulmonologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. In contrast, physicians interviewed for the study talked about lack of closure but did not experience it as abandonment. “Realizing that my experience of lack of continuity and lack of closure could be experienced by patients as abandonment was eye-opening,” Curtis says.

Good communication can help smooth the bumps that can occur during these end-of-life transitions. Physicians and medical staff should encourage cancer patients and their families to talk about their desires and needs, whether they are leaving active treatment to move to a hospice or to return to their primary care physicians, says oncologist Kenneth Miller, the director of the survivorship clinic at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, whose wife is a survivor of both leukemia and breast cancer.

“Acknowledging the plight of families and patients and validating it are really important,” says Miller. Simple things, like having medical and office staff sign a card after a patient’s death, can make a big difference to families, he adds.



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