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Curr Opin Oncol. 2014 Jul;26(4):372-9. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000086.

Definition of supportive care: does the semantic matter?

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  • 1Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, USA.



'Supportive care' is a commonly used term in oncology; however, no consensus definition exists. This represents a barrier to communication in both the clinical and research settings. In this review, we propose a unifying conceptual framework for supportive care and discuss the proper use of this term in the clinical and research settings.


A recent systematic review revealed several themes for supportive care: a focus on symptom management and improvement of quality of life, and care for patients on treatments and those with advanced stage disease. These findings are consistent with a broad definition for supportive care: 'the provision of the necessary services for those living with or affected by cancer to meet their informational, emotional, spiritual, social, or physical needs during their diagnostic, treatment, or follow-up phases encompassing issues of health promotion and prevention, survivorship, palliation, and bereavement.' Supportive care can be classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary based on the level of specialization. For example, palliative care teams provide secondary supportive care for patients with advanced cancer.


Until a consensus definition is available for supportive care, this term should be clearly defined or cited whenever it is used.

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