In most of the world, the majority of cancer patients are in advances stages of cancer when first seen by a medical professional. For them, the only realistic treatment option is pain relief and palliative care. Effective approaches to palliative care are available to improve the quality of life for cancer patientsm, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) which released a guide on the issue.
The guide Palliative care: cancer control knowledge into action, WHO guide for effective programmes was launched on the occasion of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day that fell on October 6.
The guide is the result of consultations with more than 70 leading cancer experts throughout the world and identifies effective, low-cost models for countries to adopt.
According to the organisation, 4.8 million people suffering from moderate to severe pain from cancer worldwide do not receive treatment.
Palliative care provides pain relief and management to people facing life-threatening illnesses.
Effective palliative care requires a broad multidisciplinary approach that includes the family and makes use of available community resources; it can be successfully implemented even if resources are limited. It can be provided in tertiary care facilities, in community health centres and even in children's homes.
Palliative care improves the quality of life of patients and families who face life-threatening illness, by providing pain and symptom relief, spiritual and psychosocial support to from diagnosis to the end of life and bereavement, the WHO points out.
Dr Catherine Le Gales-Camus, WHO Assistant Director General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health, said there is an "urgent need" for palliative care in cancer cases, particularly in developing countries.
The palliative care guide is aimed at public health planners and suggests how to conduct a national situation analysis and response reviews.
"Simple and low-cost public health models of palliative care can be implemented to reach the majority of the target population, particularly in developing countries where the majority of cases are diagnosed in late stages," said Dr Benedetto Saraceno, Acting Director for Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion.
"These models consider the integration of palliative care services in the existing health system, with a special emphasis on community- and home-based care."
In 2005, out of 58 million deaths worldwide 7.6 million were due to cancer. More than 70% of all cancer deaths occur in developing countries, where resources available for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are limited or nonexistent. Based on WHO projections, cancer deaths will continue to rise with an estimated 9 million people dying from cancer in 2015, and 11.4 million dying in 2030.
Yet many of these deaths can be avoided. More than 40% of all cancers can be prevented. Others can be detected early, treated and cured. Even with late-stage cancer, the suffering of patients can be relieved with good palliative care, WHO stresses.