Management of terminal hemorrhage in patients with advanced cancer: a systematic literature review

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Dec;38(6):913-27. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.04.027.


Although terminal hemorrhage is an infrequent occurrence in advanced cancer patients, it is extremely distressing for patients, their families, and health care professionals when it does occur. By definition, there is a very short time period to support and comfort the patient, and it is vital that the management approach follows the best available evidence base. A systematic literature search was carried out to retrieve relevant publications relating to the management of terminal hemorrhage in patients with advanced cancer in whom invasive or interventional procedures are no longer appropriate. From 3,564 initial citations, 18 were appropriate to include in the final review, many of which focused on patients with head and neck tumors. The reported incidence of significant bleeding in patients with advanced cancer is 6%-14% and incidence of terminal hemorrhage 3%-12%. Key areas arising from the literature were 1) identifying patients at risk, 2) general supportive measures to use, and 3) use of sedative medication. General supportive measures included use of dark towels to camouflage blood loss, use of suction, and applying external pressure. There was variation in the recommended sedative medication (drug, dose, and route). Drugs recommended included diazepam, midazolam, diamorphine, and ketamine at varying doses and routes of administration. Current guidelines are based completely on isolated case reports and expert opinion. Clinical research is needed in this area but is difficult because of practical and ethical limitations.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Hemorrhage / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Hemorrhage / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Terminal Care*