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Definition of Palliative treatment

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Palliative treatment: To palliate a disease is to treat it partially and insofar as possible, but not cure it completely. Palliation cloaks a disease. Also sometimes called symptomatic treatment.

To take a case, a 91-year-old man was found to have a tumor in his lung. He did not have chest surgery because of his age and the general rule that cancer moves more slowly with age. Instead, he had radiotherapy of the tumor: palliation, to slow the progression of local disease, as opposed to a cure.

The Latin "pallium" referred to a type of cloak in ancient Greece and Rome and, later, to a white woolen band with pendants in front and back worn by the pope or an archbishop as a symbol of full episcopal authority. Pallium was modified to form "palliate," an adjective meaning "cloaked" or "concealed" and a verb meaning "to cloak," "to cloth," or "to shelter." Today "palliation" implies the disguising or concealing of badness or evil and suggests the alleviation of the vile effects of wickedness or illness.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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