Background: The current article evaluated the course of patient-assessed symptomatology in specialized palliative care and tested for bias due to patient attrition in measures of initial symptomatology and treatment outcome.
Methods: Over 2 years, 267 consecutive, eligible patients were referred to a department of palliative care. Upon arrival, 201 patients consented to participate in a questionnaire-based evaluation of quality of life (QOL). Of these, 175 patients participated, and 142, 119, and 95 participated in the study at 1, 2, and 3 weeks, respectively. Weekly, participants completed the self-assessment questionnaires European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer QLQ-C30, Edmonton Symptom Assessment System, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory. Physicians used the Mini Mental State Examination to evaluate cognitive function. Changes from the initial symptom scores for each week were calculated. Initial scoring and change after 1 week were tested for association with completion level, i.e., whether the patient completed questions at 1, 2, 3, or 4 time points.
Results: High initial symptom intensity and significant improvements over time were observed for pain, lack of appetite, nausea/vomiting, sleeplessness, constipation, and overall QOL/well-being. For some symptoms, initial scores were significantly higher in patients who dropped out, but the changes over the first week were not significantly different between completion levels for any symptom.
Conclusions: Improvement in symptom intensity was identified. Dropout was associated with higher initial symptomatology but not with poorer outcome of palliative treatment.
(c) 2005 American Cancer Society.