Early access to palliative care significantly enhances the quality of life of advanced cancer patients in their final stages, British researchers reported.
Palliative care focuses on the whole person, not just their disease, providing relief from pain and the other symptoms and stress of a serious illness. Longer palliative care at home is associated with fewer hospital admissions and hospital deaths. Also, patients had easier access to opioids for pain relief and were less likely to receive aggressive anti-cancer therapies close to death.
These findings strengthen the importance of palliative care and may assist policymakers when developing palliative care service delivery, researchers said.
“Our research shows that for those with advanced cancer, access to palliative care and longer duration of care are significantly associated with better end of life quality indicators. Our study provides new evidence to support the early integration of palliative care for cancer patients,” Dr. Lucy Ziegler, study lead author and Yorkshire Cancer Research Academic Fellow, said in a press release.
“Previous studies have shown that palliative care intervention is associated with an increased proportion of deaths at home and a reduction in emergency admissions. However, no study has investigated when and for how long patients need access to this care in order to receive quality of life benefits,” Ziegler said.
Researchers evaluated how the timing of access to palliative care affected the quality of life of patients with advanced cancer before their death. They analysed a large population of patients with advanced cancers from Leeds, U.K.
Among the 2,479 patients included in the study, 65 percent — the majority were females or younger patients — had access to palliative care. Patients with upper gastrointestinal cancers were most likely to receive palliative care, while patients with lung cancer or cancers of the central nervous system were least likely to receive it.
Researchers found that early access to palliative care (more than four weeks before death) decreased patients’ chances of hospital admission, and access within two weeks before death was significantly linked to death outside the hospital — at home or in hospice care.
A large percentage of patients with advanced cancer, from 62 to 86 percent, are known to experience severe pain before death. Those who received palliative care were two times more likely to have received strong opioids for pain relief, researchers found.
Patients who began palliative care seven months before their death reduced chemotherapy sessions in the last four weeks of life.
This study “clearly demonstrates the importance of early access to palliative care and the huge effect this can have in ensuring cancer patients are comfortable and have the best possible experience at the end of their lives,” Ziegler said.