Sedation for terminally ill patients with cancer with uncontrollable physical distress

J Palliat Med. 2005 Feb;8(1):20-5. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2005.8.20.


Background: Relief of distressful symptoms in terminally ill patients with cancer is of prime importance. Use of sedation to accomplish this has been the focus of recent medical studies in countries other than Japan. We investigated the influence on consciousness of sedative drugs in a Japanese hospice.

Design and subjects: We defined sedation as medical procedure to decrease level of consciousness in order to relieve severe physical distress refractory to standard interventions. We excluded increases in doses of morphine or other analgesic drugs resulting in secondary somnolence from the present study. We reviewed medical records of patients receiving sedation among 124 consecutive patients admitted to our palliative care unit between January and December in 1999.

Results: The 63 patients who received sedation (50.3%) died an average of 3.4 days after its initiation. Major symptoms requiring sedation were dyspnea, general malaise/restlessness, pain, agitation, and nausea/vomiting. The Palliative Performance Status (PPS) just before sedation was 20 or less in 83% of patients. Drugs administered for sedation were midazolam, haloperidol, scopolamine hydrobromide, and chlorpromazine. During the few days before death, sedated patients were significantly more drowsy and less responsive than that in those receiving non-sedative treatment.

Conclusions: Our data suggest the effectiveness of sedation in relieving severe, refractory physical symptoms in terminally ill Japanese patients with cancer. Further investigation to confirm safety and effectiveness of sedation in this context is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Conscious Sedation / methods*
  • Consciousness / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / pharmacology
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Midazolam / pharmacology
  • Midazolam / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Midazolam