ONCOLOGY

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Associations Between Palliative Chemotherapy and Adult Cancer Patients’ End of Life Care and Place of Death: Prospective Cohort Study

 

The objectives of a study published in the British Medical Journal (4 March 2014) was to determine whether the receipt of chemotherapy among terminally ill cancer patients months before death was associated with patients’ subsequent intensive medical care and place of death. The study included a secondary analysis of a prospective, multi-institution, longitudinal study of patients with advanced cancer.

 

Eight outpatient oncology clinics in the United States enrolled 386 adult patients with metastatic cancers refractory to at least one chemotherapy regimen, whom physicians identified as terminally ill at study enrollment and who subsequently died. The primary outcomes included intensive medical care (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, or both) in the last week of life and patients’ place of death (for example, intensive care unit). Secondary outcomes included survival, late hospice referrals (<1 week before death), and dying in preferred place of death.

 

Results showed that 216 (56%) of 386 terminally ill cancer patients were receiving palliative chemotherapy at study enrollment, with a median of 4.0 months before death. After propensity score weighted adjustment, use of chemotherapy at enrollment was associated with higher rates of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, or both in the last week of life (14% vs 2%); and late hospice referrals (54% v 37%), but no difference in survival (hazard ratio 1.11). Patients receiving palliative chemotherapy were more likely to die in an intensive care unit (11% v 2%) and less likely to die at home (47% v 66%;), compared with those who were not. Patients receiving palliative chemotherapy were also less likely to die in their preferred place, compared with those who were not (65% v 80%).

 

According to the authors, the use of chemotherapy in terminally ill cancer patients in the last months of life was associated with an increased risk of undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation or both and of dying in an intensive care unit, and that future research should determine the mechanisms by which palliative chemotherapy affects end of life outcomes and patients’ attainment of their goals.

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