ASCO Endorses Legislation Addressing Need for Palliative Care Training

July 10, 2013

ASCO recently announced its strong support for legislation (S. 641) that addresses the growing demand for palliative care, an essential yet underutilized component of high-quality cancer care. The bill, Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would begin to address growing national need for palliative care.

The legislation would create up to 24 Palliative Care Education Centers at medical schools across the country to expand interdisciplinary training, as well as establish fellowships that would provide faculty in medical schools and other health profession schools short-term intensive courses focused on palliative care.

As palliative care is increasingly woven into the fabric of health care across specialties, it will be critical to see that it is well integrated within the cancer care delivery system. ASCO believes that oncologists must take a strong leadership role in helping implement PCHETA once enacted.

Palliative care has expanded from a focus on end-of-life care to a comprehensive model in which palliation is integrated throughout the care continuum. A growing body of medical evidence shows palliative care improves patients' quality of life, symptoms, and satisfaction, as well as reduces caregiver stress. For some individuals with cancer, studies have shown that patients who receive early palliative care can have a better quality of life and in some cases live longer than those who received only curative therapy.

An aging population with its associated growing incidence and prevalence of cancer makes palliative care a public health issue as well as a cancer care issue. More than1.5 million individuals are newly diagnosed with cancer every year. This increase in incidence has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of cancer survivors who live with treatment and cancer-related disabilities and symptoms.

ASCO has demonstrated long-standing leadership in fostering the delivery of palliative care in the oncology setting. The Society has issued several policy statements advocating for palliative care to be a part of comprehensive cancer care; developed numerous educational and training initiatives (including a published curriculum) to improve palliative care skills in the oncology workforce; integrated palliative care into its clinical practice recommendations and quality improvement programs; and sponsored many young researchers to investigate palliative care topics.