Palliative care

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious or life-threatening illness, such as cancer. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the person living with cancer and the family.

Pediatric palliative care gives an extra layer of support for children with cancer and their families. Palliative care can be given at any age and at any time after a cancer diagnosis. It can be given along with treatment to cure the cancer. Palliative care may begin at diagnosis and continue throughout your child’s treatment. Palliative care may become the main focus of care for children with advanced cancer when a cure is not possible. But this doesn’t mean your child won’t continue with treatment that is meant to cure cancer or slow down the progress of cancer.

Palliative care is provided by a team of different healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, child life specialists and others. The palliative care team will work with your child’s oncologist and treatment team to manage your child’s comfort. The palliative care team also cares for family members, helping them cope with cancer and care for the child. They can help you and your child have the physical, emotional and mental strength to carry on with daily life.

Palliative care of a child is centred on the family. It involves taking care of physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs and focuses on many things including:

  • relieving pain and other symptoms
  • helping the family and the healthcare team communicate with each other
  • helping to coordinate care
  • improving quality of life
  • providing hope and comfort
  • relieving stress
  • helping families make difficult decisions
  • supporting siblings
  • nurturing family connection

Expert review and references

  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Caring for a Terminally Ill Child: A Guide for Parents. Alexandria, VA.: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); 2015.
  • CureSearch. What if it seems that my child wants everything done. Bethesda, MD: National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group;
  • CureSearch. Palliative care. Bethesda, MD: National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group;
  • CureSearch. Making decisions about end of life care. Bethesda, MD: National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group;
  • Fochtman D . Palliative care. Baggott C, Fochtman D, Foley GV, Patterson K (eds.). Nursing Care of Children and Adolescents with Cancer and Blood Disorders. 4th ed. APHON; 2011: 13: 468-509.
  • Ulrich C, Sourkes B, Wolfe J . Palliative care for the child with cancer. Pizzo PA, Poplack DG (eds.). Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 49: 1404-1427.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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