Critical care management of cancer patients: cause for optimism and need for objectivity

Curr Opin Oncol. 2009 Jul;21(4):318-26. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0b013e32832b68b6.


Purpose of review: In the 1990s, cancer patients were described as poor candidates for ICU admission on the basis of high mortality rates and management costs. Over the last decade, however, advances in the management of malignancies and organ failures have led to substantial increases in survival. This review discusses current outcomes of critically ill cancer patients and recent insights into prognostic factors. Persistent areas of uncertainty are emphasized.

Recent findings: New drugs, diagnostic tools, and management strategies are available for malignancies and organ failures. Survival after ICU admission has increased in patients with solid tumors, hematological malignancies, or autologous hematopoietic cell transplantation. A few patient subgroups remain poor candidates for ICU management (i.e., allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation recipients and patients with advanced lung cancer). Careful evaluation of potential benefits from ICU admission is crucial to limit inappropriate ICU admission, nonbeneficial care, and suboptimal resource utilization.

Summary: ICU admission of selected cancer patients leads to meaningful survival. The optimal time of ICU admission needs to be determined, and patient selection criteria by both hemato-oncologists and intensivists should be improved. Long-term studies of overall survival, disease-free survival, and quality of life are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome