Palliative care and the hemato-oncological patient: can we live together? A review of the literature

J Palliat Med. 2010 Aug;13(8):1021-5. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2009.0267.


Current evidence suggests that patients with hematological malignancies less frequently access palliative care services, and for those who do, this tends to occur later in their illness than their counterparts with solid malignancies. These patients are also more likely to die in hospital following escalating interventions. This approach to care that considers palliative care referral after most treatments are exhausted has implications for the quality of palliative care intervention possible. An episodic approach engaging palliative care according to needs rather than prognosis may be more valuable. The successful integration of palliative care into the care of hemato-oncological patients requires recognition by palliative care physicians of the particular issues encountered in care, namely, the difficulty in individual prognostication; ongoing therapeutic goals of curability or long term survival; the technical nature and complications of treatment; the speed of change to a terminal event; the need for pathology testing and transfusion of blood products as death approaches; the potentially reversible nature of intercurrent events such as infection; and the long relationships that develop between patients and their hematologists. Meanwhile, hematologists should be aware of the benefits of palliative care earlier in an illness trajectory and that palliative care does not equate to terminal care only. This review summarizes current practices and barriers to referral, and suggests recommendations for collaborative care and further research in the palliation of hemato-oncological patients. In doing so, it highlights to palliative care and hematology physicians how successful integration of their disciplines may improve their care of these patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Hematologic Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Hematology / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / organization & administration
  • Palliative Care / organization & administration*
  • Patient Selection*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / organization & administration*
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Referral and Consultation / organization & administration*
  • Time Factors