Palliative care improves quality of life and survival in patients with cancer. Yet questions remain, particularly in how to study it in a publicly-funded arena. Investigators and leaders within SWOG have been asking if we should add palliative care to our research portfolio. If yes, what areas are most suitable for study? In other words, where could we – as a federally funded clinical trials network – uniquely make a difference in this broad field?

We’ll commence the conversation next month at our spring meeting. Under the leadership of SWOG Senior Advisor Dr. Frank Meyskens, we will be hosting a two-hour palliative care symposium on Friday, April 28th, from 9:45 to 11:45. The event is aimed at exploring some key areas in palliative care – care SWOG defines broadly as reducing the suffering of patients with cancer. This includes not just pain management and control of other symptoms and side effects, but advance care planning, hospice care, and physician aid-in-dying. While SWOG and other groups in the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network have conducted many symptom control trials, palliative care has never been a dedicated focus of any cooperative group.

Should it be? We’ll hear from experts and get the discussion going, highlighting patient-physician communication and advanced care planning. Here is a line-up of speakers, who will share their expertise in clinical care delivery models, medical ethics, oncology faculty training, and palliative care interventions:

  • Anthony Back, M.D., professor of medicine, University of Washington
  • Amy Vandenbroucke, J.D., executive director, National POLST Paradigm
  • Christine Richie, M.D., M.S.P.H., professor of medicine, University of California
  • Marie Bakitas, DNSc, NP-C, FAAN, professor, Marie O'Koren Endowed Chair, and associate director of the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care, University of Alabama at Birmingham

To complement these presentations, we’ll hold a special screening at 3:30 p.m. Friday of the documentary Patient, A Surgeon’s Journey. The film chronicles former Kansas surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Piehler as he battles terminal prostate cancer. SWOG's own Dr. Peter Van Veldhuizen was interviewed for the film, and worked on the production, and he will speak at our screening. We hope the documentary adds a fresh perspective to our conversation.

Because palliative care research would be a new direction for SWOG, I encourage you to reach out to me by email, or talk to me directly in the hotel corridors in San Francisco, to share your thoughts. I am excited about the possibilities here for SWOG and our patients, and I hope you are, too.