Palliative Care at Time of Cancer Diagnosis Improves Survival

(June 25, 2014) Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology earlier this month suggests that palliative care delivered at the time of cancer diagnosis improves survival.

A randomized trial of palliative oncology care in 207 patients with advanced cancer and their caregivers showed that the risk of death at one year was significantly lower in the group of patients that immediately received palliative care, versus the group who received palliative care after a delay. After a median follow-up of a little more than 1 year, 46% of patients receiving palliative care from the time of cancer diagnosis and 54% of those with delayed palliative care had died. Overall median survival was 18.3 months for the immediate group and 11.9 months for the delayed group.

“Enhanced medical care, reduced aggressive care and chemotherapy use, longer access to hospice, and biologic impacts of improved quality of life have all been proposed as mechanisms to explain this survival advantage,” said Dr. Marie Bakitas, DNSc, the Marie O’Koren Endowed Chair and Professor, School of Nursing, and associate director of the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care, University of Alabama, Birmingham. Exactly which mechanisms made the impact is unknown at this point.

The study also found that providing early palliative care support to caregivers of advanced cancer patients improves their quality of life, depression, and stress burden.

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