I'm receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer and my doctor has suggested I see a palliative care specialist. Does this mean my prognosis isn't good?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

Not necessarily. Palliative care is for anyone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness and may have symptoms from that illness or its treatment. The goal of the palliative care specialist is to reduce any signs and symptoms you may experience and make you more comfortable.

Palliative care is often confused with hospice care, which is generally for people with terminal illnesses. Hospice care workers provide palliative care, but palliative care can be given at any time during an illness, not just at the end of life.

A palliative care specialist works with your doctor and a team of chaplains, counselors, nurses and other professionals to create an individualized plan to reduce signs and symptoms you experience during your treatment. This can make it more likely that you'll complete your treatment and maintain a quality of life that allows you to continue doing things that are important to you.

Recent data shows that for people with certain types of cancer, early use of palliative care services not only makes them feel better, but also helps them live longer when compared with people who get standard treatment only.

Feb. 13, 2014