Palliative treatment is treatment that does not have the intention of curing the disease. It is given with the hope of improving the control of any symptoms, and potentially extending life, but will not cure the cancer.
Palliative treatment may be offered for a variety of reasons the most common are
- The disease is too advanced to be curable
- Curative treatment may be deemed to high risk
- Patient choice – you may have potentially curable disease but after discussion you feel that you would rather receive a palliative option than the curative options available.
The following are potential palliative treatment that may be offered, sometimes individually and sometimes in combination.
This involves medication being given to try and shrink the tumour to improve symptoms and give better quality of life. It will not completely kill the cancer. The medication may be given as tablets or as a drip depending on what is most suitable and your oncologist will discuss this with you. It may also involve a combination of drugs being given.
This involves giving high energy x-rays to an area using a large machine to try and control symptoms. It may be given to the primary tumour itself, it may also be administered to areas where the disease has spread (eg bone) to improve any symptoms.
Sometimes a special radiotherapy is given internally (Internal Beam Radiotherapy or Brachtherapy). This involves giving you sedation and carrying out an endoscopy to place a tube in your oesophagus so that radiotherapy can be administered from within the oesophagus. This treatment usually takes approximately 30 minutes to carry out.
Endoscopic Stent placement
An endoscopic stent can be used to improve the symptom of food getting stuck. It does not actively treat the cancer, but improves this symptom and can allow better nutrition. An endoscopy (OGD) is performed with you sedated and then using x-ray guidance a stent is placed which gradually opens up over 2-3 days. This is usually used for oesophageal cancer, but may on occasion be used for cancers blocking the exit of the stomach. After the procedure has been carried out you will usually stay in hospital for 1-2 more days. Sometime there may be some discomfort for the first couple of days as the stent gradually opens. You will not be able to eat a normal diet after the stent has been placed but should be able to manage significantly more than before hand. You will be given information on a “stent diet”.