June 4 (UPI) -- Most surveyed Americans have an inadequate understanding of palliative care, according to a study published Friday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Palliative care is the improvement of the quality of life for patients and caretakers by addressing the physical, psychological, and logistical challenges associated with a disease or its treatment.
Rather than hospice care, which comforts patients who have stopped treatment and are near the end of life, palliative care serves as a supplementary treatment by addressing the side effects of treatment.
Dr. Motolani Ogunsanya, an assistant professor at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, led the study for the American Association for Cancer Research.
"Despite the known benefits of palliative care and its endorsement by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, we have not seen an increased uptake of palliative care by those who need it most," said Ogunsanya. "A common misconception is that palliative care is only for end-of-life care when, in fact, it can begin at any point in the disease course."
The researchers collected data from the National Cancer Institute's Health Information National Trends Survey from 2018, which included self-reported knowledge of palliative care.
Respondents selected between "I've never heard of it," "I know a little bit about palliative care" and "I know what palliative care is and I could explain it to someone else."
The first two responses were grouped together as inadequate knowledge whereas the final response was considered adequate knowledge.
Overall, only 11% of respondents had adequate knowledge of palliative care.
Women and married individuals were twice as likely to have adequate knowledge compared to men and single respondents.
Those who had a college degree were more than 13 times more likely to adequate knowledge as well.
According to the study, approximately 90% of the 3,450 survey respondents had health insurance and about 60% utilized the healthcare system more than twice in the previous year.
Healthcare utilization was associated with knowledge of palliative care since those with a regular source of medical care were 2.67 times more likely to have adequate knowledge.
"Since healthcare providers are often the first and most trusted source of healthcare information, educating physicians on palliative care and encouraging them to discuss it with their patients and caretakers is one potential strategy to increase understanding of palliative care," Ogunsanya noted.