What You Should Know About Supportive Care

Trials Focus on Supportive Care

Supportive care also includes spirituality and end-of-life care.

Cancer treatment versus supportive care: sometimes the lines are blurred, but anti-cancer therapy and supportive care differ in important ways.

What is Supportive Care?

Supportive care usually refers to a treatment or therapy that aims to improve things for the cancer patient in any number of ways, but is in contrast to surgery and chemotherapy or targeted therapies that aim to deal with the cancer, itself.

Depending on the particular disease, supportive care can mean different things. For example, supportive care in leukemia and lymphoma, can include antibiotics to fight infections, or even blood cell growth factors, to boost white blood cells that take a hit due to the disease or its treatment.

Concepts Related to Supportive Care

  • Quality of life
  • Comfort care
  • Palliative care
  • Symptom management
  • Ongoing care
  • Spiritual care

Supportive Care also Includes Spirituality and End-of-life Care

The NCI has a webpage about Spirituality in Cancer Care, and it is an interesting read for a variety of reasons. In what might be considered a sizable understatement, the page notes “religious and spiritual values are important to patients coping with cancer.”

If you are a person of faith, this content may seem a bit cold and academic, as if the authors wanted to try to put God under the microscope. But to be fair, the NCI does have a challenging task in reaching believers and nonbelievers, alike, alienating neither.

And science does, in fact, try to restrict the dialog to observations and hypotheses that are based on the limits of human senses and intellect, albeit with intentional, disciplined exclusion of anything that’s potentially transcendent or supernatural.

Still, one might argue that the NCI could stand to include perspectives from both believers and and nonbelievers to better serve the public, since trying to do both runs the risk of leaving each camp unsatisfied.

Here is an example of ‘science-meets-spirituality’ from the NCI: “Spiritual and religious well-being may help improve quality of life. It is not known for sure how spirituality and religion are related to health. Some studies show that spiritual or religious beliefs and practices create a positive mental attitude that may help a patient feel better and improve the well-being of family caregivers.”

Needless to say, for many people, religion and spirituality are key components of supportive care -- and may be extremely important in ways other than cultivating a positive mental attitude. This may be especially true when facing a life-threatening disease like leukemia or lymphoma.

Supportive Care Trials

When thinking about clinical trials, supportive care may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Headlines often relate to new drugs and outcomes with cutting edge treatments, however supportive care is studied in clinical trials just like anti-cancer therapy. Here is a sample of a few supportive care trials that were recently under way:

  1. Could exergaming (exercise-based video games) be helpful for children being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia?
  2. Could probiotic bacteria (lactobacillus GG) help with graft-versus-host disease in the gastrointestinal tract?
  1. Does the so-called neutropenic diet really work to help prevent infections in children with cancer?
  2. Does the antiviral drug ribavirin help control respiratory syncytial virus in patients with immune systems weakened by a stem cell transplant?
  3. Can an Internet and social-media program improve quality of life in long-term survivors who underwent stem cell transplant?
  4. Do cognitive rehabilitation workshops help patients who report cognitive problems or “chemo brain” during or after treatment?
  5. What are the effects of aerobic exercise in patients undergoing chemo for blood cancers?
  6. Does guarana -- a plant native to the Amazon basin -- help in cancer patients who are losing weight and don’t want to eat?

    As can be gleaned from the above list, supportive care does not directly tackle the cancer, but also evident from the above list is the fact that aspects of supportive care may be especially important to individuals with cancer.


    TrialCheck. https://www.eviticlinicaltrials.com/cancertrialshelp/LLSMembership.aspx?AppMode=0. Accessed September 2014.

    National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/day-to-day/faith-and-spirituality/spirituality-pdq#section/all. Accessed September 2014.

    Updated October 2015.

    Continue Reading