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Cancer & Hospice: How to Know When to Call & What You Can Expect

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 1.8 million new cancer cases in the U.S. in 2020. Cancer comes in many forms and can start in many places including your lungs, brain, or even your blood.

Finding out that you or your loved one has cancer can be overwhelming. Learning that you or your loved one might not survive the disease can be devastating.

In 2016, 30.1% of Medicare hospice patients had cancer as their diagnosis – more than any other disease.¹ Hospice can help during this difficult time. Hospice care for cancer patients is a special kind of care that provides comfort, support, and dignity at the end of life, typically when you or your loved one’s life expectancy is six months or less.

Hospice cares for the whole person, addressing physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Care is provided by a team of trained professionals and volunteers. Read on to learn about what you can expect from cancer hospice care.


How Can Hospice Care Help Cancer Patients?

Despite your doctor’s efforts, sometimes treatments stop working and a cure or remission is no longer possible.

Research has shown that patients and families who use hospice services report a higher quality of life than those who don’t.² Yet, almost half of the people with advanced cancer keep getting chemotherapy even when it has almost no chance of helping them.³ They end up suffering when  they didn’t have to.

Using hospice care for a cancer patient means that you will be cared for, supported, and surrounded by compassion and comfort in your final months, weeks, or days. Hospice focuses on making sure you get the most out of the time you and your family have left together.

Watch Samaritan’s video about Rick Leonard, a hospice patient with prostate cancer that metastasized to the bone, and how Samaritan helped alleviate his severe pain so he could enjoy quality of life and time with his family.

The hospice team can help control the effects of cancer on your mind, body, and spirit, so you can maintain your dignity and remain as comfortable, alert, and pain-free as possible. You and your family will be asked what matters most to you and a plan of care will be developed to meet those needs.

Hospice care for a cancer patient includes:

  • a hospice nurse who specializes in managing pain and other symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, constipation, among others, so you can still participate in day-to-day activities.
  • a hospice social worker who focuses on a variety of concerns. They assess family interactions and provide counseling in relation to family dynamics, financial situations, advance directives, grief, and much more. They also can connect you with additional community resources, as necessary.
  • a certified home health aide who assists with the activities of daily living such as personal hygiene, meal prep, changing the bed, and putting a load of laundry in (for the hospice patient).
  • a spiritual support counselor who explores spiritual concerns, and offers prayer, meditation and encouragement with non-denominational counseling with respect to all faiths.
  • medications and equipment related to your hospice diagnosis and other related conditions.
  • a trained volunteer who provides companionship.

Quality of life is the most important.

Cancer patients who receive hospice care have a better mental outlook, get relief of symptoms, engage in better communication and may have a less stressful death.4

The hospice team will make regular visits and be there to provide caregiver training, answer questions, and help with difficult decisions.

Hospice care for cancer patients is provided wherever you call home – your house or an assisted living or nursing home facility.

Read more about hospice team members >>

Hospice Eligibility for Cancer Patients

To be eligible for hospice care you or your loved one has chosen comfort rather than treatments that focus on a cure. Your family doctor or specialist believes you have six months or less to live. In addition to other general signs and symptoms, you become eligible for hospice care for cancer patients if you meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • There is a notable weight loss that is not intentional.
  • The cancer has spread beyond the first site (Metastatic disease).
  • The cancer enters a more advanced stage despite therapy to cure or slow it.
  • You wish to stop curative treatment
    Note: Palliative radiation (radiation given to ease discomfort rather than cure) may be continued when necessary.
  • You wish to remain out of the hospital if the disease gets worse
  • You have more than one serious medical condition that may shorten survival (e.g. lung cancer with COPD). Your doctor may call this a comorbid condition.
  • You need more help with basic tasks of daily living.

We encourage you to speak directly with our nurses about the admission criteria for hospice care for cancer patients and how we can help with your needs. Please note that not every eligible patient will have every disease trigger for hospice care.

Call us to discuss your specific needs or answer your questions. You may also request to arrange a visit to see if you are eligible for hospice care or other services such as palliative care.

Cancer hospice information

Cancer patients who receive hospice care have a better mental outlook, get relief of symptoms, engage in better communication and may have a less stressful death.4

When is Hospice Called for Cancer Patients?

A common question asked by those considering hospice care for cancer patients is “when is the right time?”

The answer to this important question is now is the right time. Usually if you are asking the question, you or your loved one may already be eligible.

Call hospice care if you answer YES to one or more of the statements below.

  • You are living with advanced illness.
  • You’ve considered stopping treatments because they aren’t working or the side effects outweigh the benefits.
  • You’ve experienced multiple hospital visits.
  • You’ve experience unintended, progressive weight loss.
  • You want to spend more time at home with your family rather than in the hospital.

The decision is certainly difficult and complex. No one likes to think about their loved one dying. That’s probably why many people delay making a decision and wait until the last weeks or days of their loved one’s life. However, we often hear caregivers say they wished they called sooner.

Cancer and Hospice Frequently Asked Questions

Is hospice covered for cancer patients?

Hospice care for cancer patients is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and the Department of Veteran Affairs (A). Most commercial insurance plans also cover hospice care with applicable co-pays and deductibles. Samaritan staff will assist you in understanding and securing eligible coverage and care options.  Learn more about who pays for hospice >>

Can I stop hospice services?

Yes, you can always choose to discontinue hospice services at any time.

Can my doctor still be my doctor if I go on hospice?

Yes. Hospice physicians and team members work with your personal doctor to ensure all your needs are being met. Your doctor chooses his or her level of participation in your care.

Get More Information on Hospice and Cancer

Hospice care for cancer patients isn’t about giving up. It’s about getting help. If you have more questions about the program and eligibility please call us.


¹ National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Facts & Figures Hospice Care in America, 2017 Edition,