PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW: The purpose of this review is to describe the evolution of palliative care in paediatric oncology, the needs of children and their families in a paediatric oncology setting, palliative care referral practices in paediatric oncology, outcomes of palliative care referral in paediatric oncology and models of palliative care in paediatric oncology.
RECENT FINDINGS: Cancer constitutes 5.2% of the palliative care needs in children. Approximately, 90% of children with cancer lives in low and middle-income countries, constituting 84% of the global burden of childhood cancers. Children in low and middle-income countries have low cure rates and high death rates making palliative care relevant in a paediatric oncology setting. Children with cancer experience pain and physical symptoms, low mood, anxiety, and fear. They feel less resilient, experience low self-worth, and have challenges coping with the illness. The families lead very stressful lives, navigating the hospital environment, and dealing with uncertainties of the future. Palliative care referral in children with cancer improves physical symptoms, emotional support, and quality of life. It enables communication between families and health care providers. It improves end-of-life care support to children and their families and facilitates less invasive diagnostic and therapeutic interventions at the end of life. Worldwide children with cancer are infrequently referred to palliative care and referred late in the illness trajectory. Most of the children referred to palliative care receive some form of cancer-directed therapy in their last days. Children in low and low-middle income countries are less likely to access palliative care due to a lack of awareness amongst paediatric oncologists about palliative care and the reduced number of services providing palliative care. A three-tier model is proposed to provide palliative care in paediatric oncology, where most children with palliative care needs are managed by paediatric oncologists and a smaller number with complex physical and psychosocial needs are managed by paediatric palliative care specialists. There are several palliative care models in paediatric oncology practised globally. However, no one model was considered better or superior, and the choice of model depended on the need, preferences identified, and available resources. Children with cancer are sparingly referred to palliative care and referred late and oncologists and haematologists gatekeep the referral process. Knowledge on palliative care referral in paediatric oncology settings might enhance collaboration between paediatric oncology and paediatric palliative care.
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