Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Cancer palliative care referral: patients’ and family caregivers’ perspectives – a systematic review


Background Despite the evidence of palliative care benefits, referrals are infrequent and delayed. Patients and their caregivers are essential stakeholders in the referral process with valuable perspectives. This review systematically explored their perceived facilitators and barriers to palliative care referral.

Methods 4 subject-specific databases (PubMed, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PsycINFO and EMBASE), 3 multidisciplinary databases (SCOPUS, Web of Science and Cochrane database) and 11 journals from 1 January 1990 to 31 May 2022 were searched; and scored for their methodological rigour using Hawker’s tool. Findings were synthesised using Popay’s Narrative Synthesis method and interpreted using decision-making theory.

Results 4 themes were generated from 14 studies: (1) The timing of referral should be right and communication must be comprehensive. Delays in initiating serious illness conversations, prognostication, and decision-making hindered referral. In contrast, the presence of symptoms facilitated it. (2) Referral was equated to death, and as an inferior form of treatment, a rebranding might mitigate the stigma. (3) Referral made families feel emotional and devastated; explanation and team initiatives enabled the normalisation and positive coping. (4) Long-term holistic palliative care facilitated a positive care experience and a sense of reassurance and satisfaction, enabling a smooth transition from curative to comfort care. The late referral was associated with perceived inadequate symptom management, diminished quality of life and death and complicated bereavement issues.

Conclusion Patients’ and caregivers’ predisposition to palliative care engagement was influenced by timely referral, comprehensive communication, perception and stigma about palliative care. Longitudinal association with the palliative care team mitigated negative perceptions and improved satisfaction and coping.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42018091481.

  • Cancer
  • Terminal care
  • Supportive care
  • Quality of life
  • Family management

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.