Study objectives: To evaluate the palliative benefit of stent insertion in a group of patients with central airways obstruction due to terminal cancer.
Design: Retrospective analysis of the symptomatic score of patients immediately after stent insertion, and questionnaires completed by the general practitioner (GP) after the patients died at home.
Setting: Academic hospital, tertiary referral center for interventional bronchoscopy.
Patients and methods: Fourteen patients with imminent suffocation due to major obstruction of the central airways, caused by end-stage esophageal cancer (n = 5) and non-small cell lung cancer (n = 9), were referred for stent insertion. All prostheses were placed within 24 h after hospital admittance. Patients were then asked whether their symptoms had improved. After the patients died, a questionnaire was sent to each patient's GP.
Results: All patients expressed immediate benefit after stenting. The average length of survival after stent insertion was 11 weeks (range, 0.5 to 34 weeks). Two patients died within 1 week in our hospital after stent placement. In the remaining 12 patients, the GP considered stent insertion in 7 patients to be worthwhile, no judgment was made in 4 patients, and stent insertion in 1 patient was regarded as futile.
Conclusion: Despite terminal disease and the fact that, in our country, patients may legally refuse any treatment and formally ask for euthanasia, the palliative benefit of stent placement should always be considered. All patients had immediate symptomatic relief afterwards. Retrospectively, the GPs responsible for terminal care at home still considered stent insertion worthwhile in 58% (7 of 12 patients) of cases. Stent placement should always be considered as part of the treatment of terminal cancer patients with imminent suffocation.