Background: Most patients with cancer prefer to die at home but the majority die in institutions.
Aim: To determine place of death for patients with cancer in Belfast, to examine changes over time and identify factors associated with place of death.
Methods: A survey of deaths registered in Belfast over a six-month period for 1977, 1987 and 1997 identified patients dying from cancer. Epidemiological data included age, gender, malignancy, social class, marital status, area of residence and place of death.
Results: Home deaths fell from 35% in 1977 to 28% in 1997. Hospital deaths fell from 50% in 1977 to 40% in 1987 rising to 42% in 1997. Hospice deaths rose from 13% in 1977 to 25% in 1987 falling to 23% in 1997. There was an association between place of death and age, marital status, type of cancer and area of residence, but not with social class or gender.
Conclusion: The majority of people fail to achieve a home death. Resources need to be targeted to those most at risk of an institutional death; females, the elderly, the unmarried, those with haematological malignancies and residents of South Belfast.