Comparing three life-limiting diseases: does diagnosis matter or is sick, sick?

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2011 Sep;42(3):331-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2010.11.006. Epub 2011 Jan 28.


Context: At advanced stages, cancer, congestive heart failure (CHF), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) produce high rates of hospitalization, disability, and annual mortality. Despite similar prognoses, patients with cancer often are treated differently than those with other illnesses, the former being seen as terminal vs. chronic.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to compare the functional capacity, emotional well-being, and quality of life of patients in three disease groups to assess whether diagnosis distinguishes differences in patient experience, and compare patients with cancer and noncancer diagnoses.

Methods: Baseline data from a cohort study of 210 patients who had an estimated 50% two-year mortality were analyzed. The patients had Stage IV breast, prostate, or colon cancer; Stage IIIb or IV lung cancer; New York Heart Association Stage III or IV CHF with a left ventricular ejection fraction of <40%; or COPD with hypercapnea (pC02>46) and at least one hospitalization or Emergency Department visit during the past year. Measures included the Rosow-Breslau Activities of Daily Living/Instrumental Activities of Daily Living tool, Profile of Mood States anxiety subscale, brief Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, and the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General quality-of-life instrument. Analyses included descriptive statistics, analysis of variance, and adjusted linear regression models.

Results: A majority of illness outcomes did not differ by diagnostic category. Functional status was associated with diagnosis, with CHF and COPD patients faring worse than those with cancer. Overall, illness experience was most significantly related to disease severity, demographics, and emotional and social well-being.

Conclusion: Comparing patients with advanced cancer, CHF, and COPD, illness experience was more similar than different. Patients living with life-limiting illnesses other than cancer may benefit from whole-person services often extended to cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / psychology*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Psychometrics
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*