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Palliative Care for Childhood Cancer Patients

Pediatric palliative care is a special type of supportive care for children facing a serious illness. Palliative care focuses on comfort and quality of life. The palliative care team works with the primary medical team to personalize care for the child and his/her family.

The main goals of palliative care for children with cancer and their families are to:

  • Manage pain and other physical symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. 
  • Help with psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, and offer emotional and social support to patient and family. 
  • Match treatment and care choices to patient and family goals.
  • Provide coordination of care and communication among different health professionals.
  • Connect families to community-based resources and services.
Patient Drake with doctor in hallway

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Palliative care helps through the ups and downs of the cancer journey

Palliative care assists in managing the many needs a child and family may have along the cancer journey: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. For children with cancer, early supportive care is better. This not only improves quality of life during treatment, but it can also lead to better treatment outcomes.

Palliative care services are provided along with cancer-directed and cure-focused treatment. Care varies based on each situation, but it is always patient- and family-centered.

Palliative care resources help patients and families manage side effects of cancer and its treatment, cope with the stress of serious illness, understand information and care options, and be active in treatment and planning choices. Palliative care also promotes communication among medical team members to organize care and treatment.

Palliative can offer another layer of support at any time during a serious illness.

Ways palliative care can support patients and families: 

  • Help with pain and other physical symptoms
  • Offer emotional, social, and spiritual support
  • Work with all care team members to ensure communication with one another regarding treatment plans, coordination of care, and support services needed to meet patient and family goals
  • Coordinate medical and comfort care according to the child’s needs
  • Offer life-enhancing activities that improve quality of life for children with cancer
  • Share information and guide decisions about care and treatment
  • Offer resources to help families manage daily concerns
  • Connect families to local community-based resources and support services
  • When indicated, plan for and provide end of life care
  • Offer family support and bereavement care

The palliative care team

Palliative care specialists are trained to meet the needs associated with serious illness. The team usually includes a palliative care doctor, nurse, and social worker. However, many different health care professionals often work together in supportive care to meet the specific concerns of child and family. Palliative care can and should begin at the start of a child’s difficult illness journey.

Woman touching another woman's arm reassuringly within a clinical setting.

The palliative care team works with the primary medical team to personalize care for the child and his or her family.

A palliative care team may include:

The palliative care team does not replace a patient’s regular medical team. Rather, they serve as partners in providing optimal personalized care.

Finding palliative care services

If a child’s doctor feels that palliative care could be helpful, he or she can make a referral for palliative care services. Services are often offered through the hospital or clinic where the child receives treatment. Some medical centers offer palliative care consultation as soon as a child is diagnosed with a serious illness. Families are encouraged to discuss palliative care with their doctors and find out what options are available. Many insurance plans cover the costs of palliative care. Many health insurance plans cover palliative care services, if you have questions a social worker can help answer financial questions. Hospice organizations in the local community are another potential resource for families.

Palliative Care Provider Directory


The following brochures, available from NHPCO's CaringInfo, provide information to families caring for seriously ill children:

Reviewed: June 2018