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Duration of palliative care involvement and cancer care aggressiveness near the end of life


Objectives Previous studies have found an association between aggressive cancer care and lower quality end of life. Despite international recommendations, late or very late referral to palliative care seems frequent. This study aimed to evaluate the association between the duration of involvement of a palliative care team (PCT), and aggressive cancer care, and to identify factors associated with aggressive cancer care.

Methods We performed an observational retrospective study in a single academic teaching hospital. In total, 561 inpatients with solid tumours or haematological malignancies were included. Patients followed by a PCT for at least 1 month before death were classified in the palliative care group. Aggressive cancer care was defined as: hospitalisations and/or a new line of chemotherapy within the last month of life, location of death, the use of chemotherapy in the last 2 weeks and hospice admissions within the last 3 days of life.

Results Among the 561 patients, 241 (43%) were referred to the PCT; 89 (16%) were followed by the PCT for a month or more before death. In the last 2 weeks of life, 124 (22%) patients received chemotherapy, 110 (20%) died in an acute care unit. At least one criterion of aggressive cancer care was found in 395 patients overall (71%). Aggressive cancer care was significantly less frequent when the PCT referral occurred >1 month before death (p<0.0001).

Conclusion More studies are needed to understand reasons for late referrals despite international recommendations encouraging integrative palliative care.

Ethics approval The study was approved by the Grenoble Teaching Hospital ethics committee, and by the CNIL (French national commission for data privacy; Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) under the number 1987785 v 0. Due to ethical and legal restrictions, data are only available on request.

  • cancer
  • end of life care
  • quality of life
  • terminal care

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