Palliative care education for oncologists: how are we doing?

Jared R. Robbins, Deepak Kilari, Fabian Johnston


With the aging U.S. population, the cancer burden is increasing exponentially (1,2). Most cancer deaths occur after a period of prolonged chronic disease accompanied by progressive symptomatic burden, and psychological and spiritual distress (3). Efforts to improve cancer care, reduce cancer-related suffering, and help patients understand their prognosis and treatment options are urgently needed and are an essential part of engaging patients in their own care (4). Palliative care (PC) is patient and family-centered care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering throughout the continuum of illness and involves addressing physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs (5,6). PC is consistent with quality value based care recommendations (4-7). Timely PC intervention can sustain quality of life, reduced healthcare costs, and possibly lengthened overall survival (8-10). As the demand for PC services grow, leading to a shortage of specialty-trained/certified PC providers (specialty PC), other members of the interdisciplinary team will need to step-up to help manage PC needs. As such oncologists [medical oncologists (MO), radiation oncologists (RO), surgical oncologists (SO)] need to take a more active role as primary PC providers (generalist PC) to address basic PC issues and to provide better care for their patients (11-13). Therefore it is imperative that these oncology specialists are adequately trained and educated in PC principles and delivery.