Patients receiving Palliative Chemotherapy tied to Worse Deaths, likely in an Intensive Care Unit

Associations between palliative chemotherapy and adult cancer patients’ end of life care and place of death


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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.

Secondary analysis of a prospective, multi-institution, longitudinal study of patients with advanced cancer.

Eight outpatient oncology clinics in the United States.

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.

Main outcome measures
Primary outcomes: 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: survival, late hospice referrals (≤1 week before death), and dying in preferred place of death.

216 (56%) of 386 terminally ill cancer patients were receiving palliative chemotherapy at study enrollment, 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% v 2%; adjusted risk difference 10.5%, 95% confidence interval 5.0% to 15.5%) and late hospice referrals (54% v 37%; 13.6%, 3.6% to 23.6%) but no difference in survival (hazard ratio 1.11, 95% confidence interval 0.90 to 1.38). Patients receiving palliative chemotherapy were more likely to die in an intensive care unit (11% v 2%; adjusted risk difference 6.1%, 1.1% to 11.1%) and less likely to die at home (47% v 66%; −10.8%, −1.0% to −20.6%), 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%; adjusted risk difference −9.4%, −0.8% to −18.1%).

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. Future research should determine the mechanisms by which palliative chemotherapy affects end of life outcomes and patients’ attainment of their goals.

More Information
  • Associations between palliative chemotherapy and adult cancer patients’ end of life care and place of death: prospective cohort study, BMJ 2014; 348:g1219, 04 March 2014.
  • Chemotherapy tied to worse deaths, study finds,
    BostonGlobe, lifestyle/health-wellness, 07 March 2014.
  • Study: Chemotherapy May Lead To Less Peaceful Death,
    CBS, atlanta.cbslocal, 08 March 2014.
  • Chemotherapy proven to cause long, agonizing, suffering death,
    NaturalNews, 044378, 20 March 2014.

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