Purpose: Most referrals to palliative care and hospice occur late in the trajectory of the disease although an earlier intervention could decrease patients' symptom distress. The purpose of this study was to determine the interval between first palliative care consult (PC1) and death (D) in patients diagnosed with advanced cancer (aCA) at our comprehensive cancer center and if such interval has increased over time.
Methods: The study group was 2868 consecutive patients who had their PC1 during a 30-month period. We reviewed the charts for information about demographics, cancer type, date of cancer (CA) diagnosis, aCA diagnosis, PC1, and D. aCA was defined as locally recurrent or metastatic.
Results: One thousand four hundred four patients (49%) were female, 1791 (62%) were less than 65 years old, 2563 (89%) had solid tumors, and 2004 (70%) were white. The median PC1-D, aCA-PC1, aCA-D, and CA-D intervals were 42, 147, 250, and 570 days, respectively. The median PC1-D interval was longer in patients with solid tumors (p < 0.0001), less than 65 years old (p = 0.002), and females (p = 0.004). PC1-D was not affected by ethnicity (p = 0.42). The median PC1-D interval in 5 consecutive half-years was 46, 56, 42, 41, and 34 days, respectively (p = 0.02). The number of PC1 in this period increased from 544 to 654 (20%). The ratio of PC involvement in the aCA-D period (PC1-D/aCA-D) decreased from 0.30 to 0.26 over the 5 half-year periods (p = 0.0004).
Conclusions: The first palliative care consultation to death interval has decreased over time at our center. Education is needed among our referring physicians for earlier access to palliative care. Prospective studies are needed to establish the appropriate timing of the first palliative care consultation.