Desire for hastened death, cancer pain and depression: report of a longitudinal observational study

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2005 May;29(5):446-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2004.08.010.


Desire for hastened death (DHD) is reported in the literature as being common in patients with cancer pain. However, there is currently little evidence to suggest that improvement in pain results in improvement in DHD. Our objectives were to assess 1) the impact of improvements in cancer pain severity and pain's interference with daily functioning and depression on DHD, and 2) the role of factors such as social and spiritual well-being, educational level, and patient age in moderating the impact of pain and depression on DHD. This observational study included patient-rated and clinician-rated scales administered twice at 4-week intervals. We enrolled 131 newly-referred patients to the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center or newly-admitted patients to Calvary Hospital in New York. One hundred and sixteen patients completed the baseline measures and 64 patients completed both baseline and follow-up measures. The main outcome measures included the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Desire for Hastened Death Scale (DHD). Sixty-six percent of patients had no DHD at baseline and 45% of patients had BDI scores of 14 or greater ('mild' depression). Only 40% of patients with moderate/severe depression were receiving antidepressants. BPI scores improved significantly from baseline to follow-up (6.36 vs. 4.86, P < 0.01). DHD scores increased significantly from baseline to follow-up (0.84 to 1.38, P = 0.03). All other measures including depression were stable. DHD scores were moderately correlated with depression (r = 0.43), low social support (r = 0.38), poor spiritual well-being (r = -0.38), religious well being (r = -0.25), pain interference (r = 0.27), higher educational level (F = 4.50, P = 0.02) and lower physical functioning (KPRS, r = -0.40), but were unrelated to sex, age, race, or marital status. In multivariate regression analyses, baseline DHD (beta = 0.30, P = 0.05) and change in depression (beta=0.36, P = 0.02) were predictive of follow-up DHD. Improvement in pain interference was not predictive of follow-up DHD. The results suggest that improvement in depression moderated the severity of desire for hastened death in a population of patients with cancer pain. Depression was common in this population and was often untreated. Improvements in functional impairment due to pain did not moderate the severity of DHD in a setting of aggressive pain management. Strategies to preemptively screen for depression in the routine assessment of patients with cancer pain may be important to address DHD.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death*
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Time Factors