A Guide to Curative Care Medical Treatment

Little boy getting a cast on his leg

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Curative care refers to treatment and therapies provided to a patient with the main intent of fully resolving an illness and the goal of bringing the patient—ideally—to their status of health before the illness presented itself. For instance, when a patient receives curative care for Breast Cancer, the goal is for any anatomical evidence of the cancer to disappear and for that patient's overall health to return to its status from before the cancer was diagnosed.

Curative or Aggressive Care

Curative care may take many different forms, but all have the same goals. Aggressive care is a form of curative care and represents a proactive approach to medical treatment. This care aggressively aims to eliminate medical issues, rather than simply minimizing their impact. A patient that is receiving aggressive care will typically receive medication, have access to technology, undergo surgery, and take any other measures that could be considered effective approaches to treat an illness. In some cases, aggressive care may have significant side effects that are considered acceptable because there is a real possibility of a cure.

Examples of curative care include:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer
  • Cast for a broken limb
  • Dialysis treatment for kidney failure
  • Surgery for appendicitis

When It's Appropriate

With curative care comes hope. Typically, when a patient receives curative care, it is an indication that there is a belief that the patient may potentially recover, or will at least be able to continue living at a reasonable quality. Curative care is by far the most common form of medicine practiced in the United States.

When it no longer appears that the patient has a legitimate chance to recover or continue to live with a decent quality of life, doctors may suggest ending aggressive care. While this may sound like giving up on the patient, such a decision is actually made with the patient’s best interest in mind. Once a patient reaches a point where curative care is no longer helpful or effective, the quality of life decreases. At this point, patients may prefer to go peacefully, rather than continue to fight.

For some patients and families, the decision to end aggressive care is a relief. For others, the idea of giving up on a cure is upsetting or frightening. Many hospitals offer counseling and support to help families make the decision to end curative care.

Palliative Care

The term curative care is often used in contrast with "palliative care," which is a treatment or therapy that does not directly aim to cure the patient. Rather, palliative care aims to provide comfort for the patient in the moment. Palliative care is a specialized form of health care that aims to improve the overall quality of life of patients and the families of patients who are faced with life-threatening illness and medical issues.

Rather than aiming to cure and therefore fully resolve the underlying illness with the focus of prolonging a patient's life, palliative care focuses on increasing the patient’s comfort through minimization of pain or other illness-related issues. By focusing on symptomatic care and guiding patients through complex medical decisions, palliative care does not particularly 'fight' for the prolongation of life nor attempts to tackle the underlying disease, but rather helps patients have the closest to an enjoyable life while they are living with an active disease.

By carrying out this goal, palliative care will largely improve quality of life, and, as some studies have demonstrated, will have the unplanned effect of actually prolonging a life. This largely stems from the fact that aggressive curative care when a patient is suffering from a serious and advanced illness, can have the unwanted effect of putting already vulnerable patients through tremendous amounts of side effects which ultimately can have the paradoxical effect of cutting a life short.

Hospice is a specific type of palliative care that is provided to individuals in the last six to nine months of life.

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