We are pleased to introduce the first issue of Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care. Supportive and palliative care programmes have grown rapidly in recent years in response to both growth in the population living with chronic, debilitating and life-threatening illness and to clinician interest in evidence-based approaches to the holistic care of such patients. An increasing amount of literature is published in this expanding field each year in a wide range of journals. While there is no shortage of original publications of preclinical studies, clinical trials and guidelines, however, there appears to be a void in supportive and palliative care for short, concise, current evidence-based reviews – hence this journal filling that void.
There is an important distinction between supportive and palliative care. The latter has become established as the universal term for care at the end of life and the months preceding it, usually in the context of cancer. The World Health Organization  defines it as:
an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
Supportive care, in contrast, has been defined by the Multinational Association for Supportive Care in Cancer (http://www.mascc.org) as:
the prevention and management of the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment. This includes physical and psychosocial symptoms and side effects across the entire continuum of the cancer experience including the enhancement of rehabilitation and survivorship.
The distinction is therefore mainly in the timescale of involvement with the patient (and family carers) – supportive care from the beginning of illness until death or into survivorship; palliative care focusing on the latter stages of life. In addition, supportive care engages head-on with curative, life-prolonging and life-maintaining treatments, whereas palliative care generally works after these have been withdrawn. For the purposes of this journal, we are not restricting supportive or palliative care to cancer patients but will embrace the spectrum of chronic and life-limiting illnesses facing societies. Figure 1 gives a graphical explanation of supportive care .
Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care is part of the longstanding and well-received Current Opinion series in clinical medicine and is dedicated to the review of recent advances in supportive and palliative care. This reader-friendly, broad-based resource empowers those working in the various disciplines to put to good use high-quality clinical and basic science research from throughout the world. It will help clinicians and researchers keep up to date with the vast amount of information published in the field.
The journal will be published quarterly (in print and online), focusing on three topics per issue. Each section will be developed under the guidance of internationally recognized experts who select topics and authors from around the world. This process will provide the reader with a critical review of recent publications in the field, highlighting the latest developments related to the section's theme as well as comprehensive annotated bibliographies. These contributions will be complemented with an editorial written by the section editors. In subsequent years, the same section topics will continue to be updated. In addition, the section editors and editorial board will add or substitute new, emerging areas of interest in supportive and palliative care.
1 Sepulveda C, Marlin A, Yoshida T, Ullrich A. Palliative care: the World Health Organization's global perspective. J Pain Symptom Manage 2002; 24:91–96.
2 Ahmedzai SH, Walsh D. Palliative medicine and modern cancer care. Semin Oncol 2000; 27:1–6.