What is Supportive Care?

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Supportive Care Makes Excellent Cancer Care Possible

People with cancer face significant challenges from their illness, including physical, emotional, and functional problems (such as the ability to work). In addition to this, many people with cancer also experience side effects from the cancer treatment. These side effects may be short-term, long-term, or even life-long.

This is not only problematic for the individual, but can also influence their course of treatment. If problems do develop, the individual’s anti-cancer treatment may be delayed, changed (e.g. the dose reduced), or stopped altogether, all of which can lead to worse outcomes. 

This is why excellent cancer care requires supportive care

Supportive care in cancer is the prevention and management of the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment. This includes management of physical and psychological symptoms and side effects across the continuum of the cancer journey from diagnosis through treatment to post-treatment care. Supportive care aims to improve the quality of rehabilitation, secondary cancer prevention, survivorship, and end-of-life care.

The following are just a few of the ways that supportive care makes excellent cancer care possible:

  • Alleviation of symptoms and complications of cancer
  • Prevention or reduction of treatment toxicities
  • Improved communication between people with cancer and caregivers about disease and prognosis
  • Increased tolerance, and thus benefits, of active therapy
  • Easing of the emotional burden for people with cancer and caregivers
  • Psychosocial support for cancer survivors

Principles of Supportive Care

  • Supportive care aims to maintain (or improve) quality of life, and to ensure that people with cancer can achieve maximum benefit from their anticancer treatment.
  • Supportive care is relevant throughout the continuum of the cancer experience from diagnosis through treatment to post-treatment care (and encompasses cancer survivorship, and palliative and end-of-life care).
  • Supportive care involves a coordinated, person-centric, holistic (whole-person) approach, which should be guided by the individual’s preferences, and should include appropriate support of their family and friends.
  • Supportive care (as outlined) is a basic right for all people with cancer, irrespective of their personal circumstances, their type of cancer, their stage of cancer, or their anti-cancer treatment. It should be available in all cancer centers, and other medical facilities that routinely manage people with cancer.
Supportive care is about treating the person, whilst oncology is treating their cancer

-Andrew Davies, MD FRCP