Palliative and hospice care for patients with terminal cancers linked to asbestos exposure

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on May 05th, 2020

It is generally agreed among the scientific community that inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause inflammation and genetic changes that can lead to cancer. If you or a loved one has a potentially life-limiting asbestos-related condition, your GP may bring up palliative or hospice care at some point.

The health hazards of asbestos have been widely discussed and proven by medical professionals around the world, over the last few decades. Asbestos, the excellent insulator that can resist high temperatures, was used in the construction, shipbuilding, and production industries for years, and has been found to cause a variety of serious illnesses, including cancer.

Palliative and hospice care - compassionate care to patients with life-limiting illnesses

Evidence from studies in both people and lab animals has shown that asbestos exposure can increase the risk for some types of cancer, including:

When breathed in, microscopic asbestos fibers can lie dormant in people's bodies for anywhere between 10 to 40 years, causing slow and steady damage. Simply put, you could get a devastating diagnosis of an advanced form of aggressive cancer, several decades after initial asbestos exposure.

Although hospice care includes palliative care, there are important differences. Palliative care is an approach to care for a person with a terminal illness whose doctor believes he or she has 6 months or less to live and continues to receive curative care. If a patient has a prognosis of six months or less to live, regardless of all available medical treatment, the benefits of hospice care tend to be preferable.

Palliative treatment for asbestos-induced cancer

Cancer treatment options depend on the type and the stage of cancer, age, health status, and supplementary characteristics, and last but not least, your preferences. It is important to know that a long, hard, and painful journey is waiting for you. Taking information helps you to know what to expect. Together with your doctor, you may find the method that suits you best for optimal results.

  • Palliative surgery involves the management and care of patients who undergo operations that were performed mainly to relieve pain and to restore organ function, with little anticipated effect on long-term survival. Surgery is the most common treatment used for early-stage cancer when the tumor hasn't spread to other body parts. Palliative surgical procedures are also carried out to improve the response to other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
  • Palliative radiation therapy is used as a radical or complementary treatment in more than 60 percent of cancer patients. Radiation therapy destroys or decreases cancer tumors by using X-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons. This procedure literally leads the cancer cells to commit suicide. Radiation therapy can be external or given through implants placed inside the body.
  • Palliative chemotherapy is designed to delay or slow cancer growth and relieve symptoms. It can work throughout the whole body, damaging the proteins or DNA of cancer cells that have metastasized. When cancer it's out of control, in advanced stages, chemotherapy is used to help patients cope with the symptoms.

Pioneers in research continue to find methods to improve cancer treatments. Carl O. Helvie is an American Professor Emeritus of Nursing at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and a lung cancer survivor. As well as other patients diagnosed with cancer, he also experienced the expression that cuts into living flesh: "you have lung cancer, without surgery and chemotherapy you will be dead in six months". During the process, Carl O. Helvie learned that "6 months to live" is not a medical diagnosis. For patients fighting with cancer, this can become like a self-fulfilling prophecy because of the influence of the mind on the body. He found it supportive to pursue in constructing a series of effective natural treatment strategies, including:

  • Alternative treatments are used instead of standard or traditional therapies. While they learn to live with cancer, people experience many emotions like fear, uncertainty, denial, guilt, anxiety, isolation, anger, sadness, and depression. Alternative methods may help you cope with your feelings, simply because they use your own body and mind. Common cancer signs and symptoms may be lessened by alternative treatments. If you are experiencing anxiety, stress, fatigue, pain, nausea, and vomiting, you may consider hypnosis, massage, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga.
    PROS: Alternative treatments offer the possibility to take an active role in improving your own health, removing the side effects of mainstream cancer treatment. Most people who opt for alternative therapy are motivated by their natural approach to healing.
    CONS: Many alternative cancer treatments are scientifically unproven, thus not recognized by oncologists and other specialists. On the other hand, alternative therapies take time to work, they require lifestyle changes and they may put the patient at serious risk. Delays or interruption in proven methods can give cancer the chance to grow.
  • Integrative interventions. Integrative care is a combination of conventional treatments and complementary therapies. A proper definition of integrative care is given by Dr. Stacie Stephenson, CTCA Chair of Functional Medicine: "an integrative approach to cancer care treats the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and other tools, while also supporting patients' strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-informed therapies". In a close partnership with your doctor, you can get a customized health plan, for your unique physical and emotional needs. Dr. James Forsythe MD HMD, describes as a key principle, a different approach to dieting in cancer, which includes sugar-free diets, alkalinizing diets, specific vitamin supplement therapies, herbal therapies, amino acid supplements.
    PROS: Some studies have shown over a 30% survival rate in integrative treatments, compared with 2.1% in conventional oncology. Over the past 15 years, most cities of the U.S. have shaped significant integrative programs at mainstream treatment centers.
    CONS: Some methods are simply unsuitable for the specific typology of the disease, and some diets are unproven, expensive, and potentially dangerous.

End-of-life care in patients with advanced and incurable cancers linked to asbestos exposure

While palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment and may begin at the time of diagnosis, hospice care's purpose is to keep terminally ill patients comfortable and provide support for their families and caregivers.

Hospice care is a type of specialized health care for people with terminal conditions aimed at controlling physical and emotional pain and discomfort and is provided to people with life-limiting illnesses and their families. It is provided by a team of specially-trained specialists and is equipped to meet the unique needs of terminally ill patients, including:

  • Prevent or relieve cancer symptoms
  • Diet and nutrition plans
  • Control emotional, mental, social, or/and spiritual suffering that occurs at the end of life
  • Facilitate breathing - Unlike some other cancers, lung cancer does not generally spell preferred outcomes for patients. People who suffer from lung cancer have special needs in their care at the end of life, specifically because of the way lung cancer affects the most fundamental features of life: breathing.

Hospice care is most often received in the comfort of a patient's home, but hospice facilities also provide the same services. Hospice includes nursing care, counseling, and physician services specialized in emotional support and symptom control related to advanced, terminal diseases. It also includes personal support in daily activities such as cleaning, grocery shopping, meal prep, laundry, etc. Connecting with dedicated hospice facilities oftentimes results in peace of mind for both patient and family members, as needs can be assessed and important next steps identified.

If you have been exposed to asbestos and now coping with the stress of a terminal illness, we are here to help

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is devastating for you and your family members. We understand this and we also understand that financial compensation will not bring back your health, but it may relieve you and your family of financial hardship. It is important for anyone who developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, or cancer of the esophagus, larynx, pharynx, stomach, colon, or rectum to claim benefits prior to their death and let us start the process sooner, with help from family members.

If your cancer was caused as a result of asbestos exposure you may face a race against the clock to secure the compensation to which you are entitled. If you would like to discuss and learn more, contact our trusted, reputable lawyers at Environmental Litigation Group today.