Interval between palliative care referral and death among patients treated at a comprehensive cancer center

J Palliat Med. 2005 Oct;8(5):1025-32. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2005.8.1025.


In recent years, patients with advanced cancer are referred more frequently to palliative care programs. However, the referrals usually occur relatively late for the management of severe physical and psychological distress. The purpose of this retrospective study was to investigate the interval between palliative care referral and death in patients with advanced cancer. We reviewed charts of 240 consecutive patients with advanced cancer referred to the palliative care program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center between September and December 2003. Demographics, as well as dates of cancer diagnosis, advanced disease diagnosis, palliative care referral, and death were determined. The median age was 61 years old, 173 were male, 304 patients had solid tumors, and 26 had hematologic malignancies. The median time intervals between the diagnosis of the primary cancer and death, diagnosis of advanced disease and death, advanced disease and palliative care referral, and palliative care referral and death were 33.0 months (95% confidence interval [CI]: 25.8-41.9), 9.4 months (95% CI: 7.9-11.1), 5.6 months (95% CI: 4.3-7.7), and 1.9 months (95% CI: 1.6-2.2), respectively. The patients' median time interval from advanced cancer diagnosis to death and from palliative care referral to death was shorter in patients with hematologic malignancies than in those with sold tumors (p = 0.018 and p < 0.001, respectively). Median time interval between palliative care referral and death was longer for patients less than 65 year old than those 65 years old or more (p = 0.03). Our results should help palliative care and oncology programs at comprehensive cancer centers plan how to develop joint programs for patient care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Analysis
  • Texas
  • Time Factors