Palliative care


Palliative care is specialised care for people who have a disease that cannot be cured.

It focuses not only on helping to control physical symptoms such as pain, but also on emotional wellbeing, relationships with others and spiritual needs. In later stages, palliative care can also help people prepare for death.

Palliative care includes more than care for people who are dying. Any treatment for metastatic breast cancer that helps to relieve symptoms and improve day-to-day life can be called palliative care.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is available for anyone who has a progressive life-limiting disease.

The care required is determined by an individual patient's needs. Services are available that are age and culturally appropriate.

A specialist palliative care service can help provide:

  • pain and symptom relief by providing medication and information about drugs
  • practical advice and support for the woman and her family/carers
  • temporary respite care to give carers some ‘time out’
  • counselling and support groups for the woman and those close to her
  • support with spiritual issues through referral to appropriate resources
  • support in helping women and those close to her prepare for the later stages of metastatic breast cancer, including understanding preferences for where she would like to die
  • bereavement support for families and carers.

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative care includes care at home or in hospitals, hospices or specialist palliative care units. The palliative care team works with the other health professionals involved in a woman’s care.

The palliative care team might include:

  • a palliative care specialist
  • a local GP with skills in palliative care
  • a palliative care nurse
  • palliative care volunteers
  • allied health professionals, such as a dietitian or occupational therapist
  • social workers
  • counsellors

Accessing palliative care

A woman with metastatic breast cancer can ask her doctor for a referral to a specialist palliative care service at any point after a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. 

Palliative care may be particularly helpful for women who decide they no longer wish to have active treatment to control their cancer. However, women who are relatively well and continuing to receive active treatment may also benefit from making contact with a specialist palliative care service, particularly for women experiencing symptoms that are difficult to control. 

Finding the words – starting a conversation when your cancer has progressed is a resource that was developed to help women with metastatic breast or ovarian cancer talk about how palliative care might help them to live as well as possible when cancer has spread.

Where is palliative care provided?

Palliative care can be provided in a hospital or hospice or on an out-patient basis through a clinic or at home.

More information

Palliative Care Australia has a directory of palliative care services in Australia as well as a list of organisations in each State and Territory who can provide more information about palliative care.

Questions to ask

Listed below are some questions you might want to ask about palliative care for metastatic (secondary) breast cancer.

  • Would palliative care be helpful for me and/or my family?
  • Can you refer me to a palliative care service?
  • What support can palliative care provide?