Despite improvements in survival, cancer remains the leading cause of non-accidental death in children and adolescents, who risk receiving high-intensity end-of-life (HI-EOL) care.
Objective To analyse treatments for relapses (particularly in the last weeks of life), assess their impact on the EOL, identify patients most likely to receive HI-EOL care and examine whether palliative care services can contain the intensity of EOL care.
Methods This retrospective study involved patients treated at the paediatric oncology unit of the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Milan who died between 2018 and 2020. The primary outcome was HI-EOL care, defined as: ≥1 session of intravenous chemotherapy <14 days before death; ≥1 hospitalisation in intensive care in the last 30 days of life and ≥1 emergency room admission in the last 30 days of life.
Results The study concerned 68 patients, and 17 had HI-EOL care. Patients given specific in-hospital treatments in the last 14 days of their life more frequently died in hospital. Those given aggressive EOL care were less likely to die at home or in the hospice. Patients with central nervous system (CNS) tumours were more likely to have treatments requiring hospitalisation, and to receive HI-EOL care.
Conclusion These results underscore the importance of considering specific treatments at the EOL with caution. Treatments should be administered at home whenever possible.
The early activation of palliative care, especially for fragile and complicated patients like those with CNS cancers, could help families cope with the many problems they face.
- quality of life
- supportive care
- terminal care
Data availability statement
Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data are available only with authorisation by ethical commettee.
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Contributors MGP, ES, VB and GG have contributed to the conception or design of the study; MGP, NP, LB, ON and MC have contributed to data collection; MGP, MM and CAC have contributed to the data analysis; MGP, RL, FS and MT have contributed to data interpretation; MGP drafted the manuscript; MGP, SC, MC and AF were involved in critical revision of the manuscript. All authors gave their final approval of the version to be published.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.