The good news made headlines nationwide: Deaths from several kinds of cancer have declined significantly in recent years. But the news has to be bittersweet for many cancer patients and their families. Every year, more than 500,000 people in the United States still die of cancer. In fact, more than half of all patients diagnosed with cancer will die of their disease within a few years. And while it's true survival is longer today than in the past, the quality of life for these patients is often greatly diminished. Cancer--and many of the treatments used to fight it--causes pain, nausea, fatigue, and anxiety that routinely go undertreated or untreated.

In the nation's single-minded focus on curing cancer, we have inadvertently devalued the critical need for palliative care, which focuses on alleviating physical and psychological symptoms over the course of the disease. Nothing would have a greater impact on the daily...

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