A Guide to Curative Care Medical Treatment

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.

Little boy getting a cast put on his leg
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Curative Care

Curative care represents a proactive approach to medical treatment. This care aims to eliminate medical issues, rather than simply minimizing their impact. A patient that is receiving curative 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, curative 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 for kidney disease
  • 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 with a reasonable quality of life.

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 curative 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 curative 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 reduce suffering and 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.

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

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Caring.org. Curative or therapeutic care.

  2. Hughes MT, Smith TJ. The growth of palliative care in the United States. Annu Rev Public Health. 2014;35:459-75. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182406

  3. National Institute on Aging. What are palliative care and hospice care?

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.