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  • Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care (POPC)

    The Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care (POPC) is composed of five divisions that offer unique services and conduct research with one important goal: To help patients and their families maintain the best quality of life during and after treatment.

    Our specially trained staff includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers, and administrators who work closely with patients and their families, oncologists, and other members of the health care team to provide integrated care and support each patient's unique needs – from diagnosis through treatment and into survivorship.

    Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care (POPC) leaders

    Our Divisions

    Adult Palliative Care

    Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness – whatever the diagnosis or stage of illness. Our Adult Palliative Care Program works closely with patients and their doctors to:

    • Provide patients with an extra layer of support
    • Help patients navigate their health care
    • Help patients to understand their treatment options

    Our goal is to help patients and their families experience the best possible quality of life by focusing on the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.

    Adult Psychosocial Oncology

    Cancer affects more than just the body. Caregivers in our Psychosocial Oncology Program work with patients and their care teams to define patients' concerns and develop individual plans to cope with the emotional stress cancer may bring. We also offer special programs for young adults, ages 18 to 39 being treated for cancer, as well as bereavement support for those coping with the loss of a loved one.

    Adult Social Work

    Patients and their loved ones often face many new concerns and anxieties following a cancer diagnosis. Our licensed social workers are here to help through one-on-one sessions and a variety of support groups for cancer patients and their family members. Parents being treated for cancer can also find support through our Family Connections program.

    Pediatric Palliative Care

    Pediatric palliative care optimizes quality of life, promotes healing, and provides comfort for children with life-threatening illnesses. Our Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) adds an extra layer of support and consults with patients, their families, and the rest of the care team to make the best health care decisions for each child.

    Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology

    When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family is affected. Our Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology team helps families adjust to the emotional impact of cancer diagnosis and treatment, and shares suggestions and strategies for coping, not just for children being treated for cancer, but also for their parents and siblings.

    Read our Insight blog for information and inspiration about psychosocial oncology at Dana-Farber.


    Our Research

    The Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care provides world-class clinical care, while also conducting innovative, leading-edge research that helps us better understand the experience of living with cancer and identify novel approaches to feeling better.

    Examples of our research include:

    • Interventions to improve communication between clinicians and patients
    • Understanding the role of medical marijuana in treating symptoms
    • Exploring the impact of spirituality on illness
    • Mitigating the effects of breast cancer treatments on hot flashes
    • The effect of providing child-reported symptom and quality-of-life feedback to clinicians

    Current research projects include:

    Serious Illness Care Program

    The Serious Illness Care Program is based at Dana-Farber and Ariadne Labs. Through this work, our research team is developing an innovative, scalable system to guide discussions about preferences for patients with serious illness and their families, ensuring personalized treatment plans for every patient.

    Our intervention aims to achieve more, better, and earlier conversations about goals of care by creating a population management system to:

    • Identify patients who would benefit from discussions of end-of-life preferences
    • Train and coach physicians and other clinicians to use a structured communication guide to elicit patient values and goals
    • Trigger clinicians to conduct conversations
    • Facilitate patient communication with family members
    • Document patients' wishes in a "single source of truth" in the electronic medical record

    We are currently testing this program in oncology, primary care, nephrology, and chronic critical illness.

    Qualitative Analysis of Oncology's Approach to Medical Marijuana

    Our primary goal is to complete pilot research on the role, broadly defined, of medical marijuana in oncology. We are conducting a qualitative study, interviewing up to 15 key United States informants with expertise at the intersection of oncology and cannabinoid use. During interviews, we inquire about their attitudes towards use of – and their clinical decision-making around – medical marijuana in oncology.

    Palliative Care Integration in Children with Advanced Cancer

    Under the direction of Joanne Wolfe, MD, MPH, chief of the Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) and co-director of the Pediatric Palliative Care Research Network (PPCRN), we are researching methods of easing suffering and promoting wellbeing in children with serious illness and their families. Wolfe's current project aims to assess whether symptom distress in children with advanced cancer can be improved through early integration of palliative care.

    Palliative Care Needs for Children with Transplants

    Led by Christina Ullrich, MD, MPH, we are investigating the palliative care needs of children who undergo hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, with support from a K23 Career Development Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Ullrich's other research interests include symptom management in children with cancer, particularly fatigue, and the provision of palliative care concurrent with disease-directed or restorative treatment.

    Improving Communication Between Patients and Oncologists Using Patient Feedback on Real Conversations

    High quality cancer care depends upon physicians recognizing and responding to patients' physical and emotional concerns. As with any other skill, oncologists communicating effectively with patients requires training. Currently, the gold standard for such teaching occurs in intensive courses using patient actors. However, these take lots of time and are expensive. To solve this problem, Dana-Farber created a computerized program in which oncologists audio-record conversations with real patients and then receive feedback on how well they did. Doctors who used this program doubled how often they responded to patients' emotional concerns and also increased their patients' trust. In a 3-year, $1.7 million grant funded by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), we are enhancing this program by adding a feature whereby real patients also listen to the conversations and give feedback to these doctors. We will then have doctors who are being recertified in oncology by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) use this program as part of that recertification process. We will test how well it increases their patients' satisfaction in their communication, and whether it improves their communication skills. If successful, this intervention will represent an effective communication training program for physicians in which they improve their communication skills through direct feedback from patients. Because of the integration with the ABIM Maintenance of Certification Program, if fully adopted into that program, it could have an extraordinary impact on thousands of physicians and their patients.

    Measuring Palliative Care through Natural Language Processing

    Led by Charlotta Lindvall, MD, PhD, of Adult Palliative Care, we are developing natural language processing tools to mine the electronic medical record for meaningful insight into patients’ symptoms, goals, and values. Through a partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this research will help measure the success of palliative care interventions, such as palliative surgery or radiation, and make data on end-of-life conversations, health care proxies, and other important preferences easily visible to all members of the care team. We hope to expand these methods throughout palliative care and medical oncology, and eventually across all research areas at Dana-Farber. Lindvall’s current project – creating quality measures for palliative surgery – received recognition from the National Quality Forum’s Innovation Challenge for its new approach to quality measurement in cancer care.

    Medical Marijuana in Oncology

    While the scientific evidence of medical marijuana’s benefits remains in its infancy, it is important to understand marijuana’s medical utility and reservations clinicians may have about it. Led by Ilana Braun, MD, chief of Adult Psychosocial Oncology, we are conducting a national study of oncologists’ perspectives on the role of medical marijuana in cancer care and symptom management to explore expert opinion on this new therapeutic option.


    Contact Us

    If you are a Dana-Farber patient who would like to learn more about our services or make an appointment, please speak with your oncologist, or contact us directly:

    Adult Palliative Care


    Adult Psychosocial Oncology

    If you have urgent concerns or need to speak with a psychiatrist during weeknights, 5:00 p.m. – 8:30 a.m., or weekends, Friday, 5:00 p.m. – Monday, 8:30 a.m., please call 617-732-5700, pager #13088.

    Pediatric Advanced Care Team


    Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology


    Social Work


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