Purpose: Prior research shows that introducing palliative care soon after diagnosis for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is associated with improvements in quality of life, mood, and survival. We sought to investigate whether early palliative care also affects the frequency and timing of chemotherapy use and hospice care for these patients.
Patients and methods: This secondary analysis is based on a randomized controlled trial of 151 patients with newly diagnosed metastatic NSCLC presenting to an outpatient clinic at a tertiary cancer center from June 2006 to July 2009. Participants received either early palliative care integrated with standard oncology care or standard oncology care alone. By 18-month follow-up, 133 participants (88.1%) had died. Outcome measures included: first, number and types of chemotherapy regimens, and second, frequency and timing of chemotherapy administration and hospice referral.
Results: The overall number of chemotherapy regimens did not differ significantly by study group. However, compared with those in the standard care group, participants receiving early palliative care had half the odds of receiving chemotherapy within 60 days of death (odds ratio, 0.47; 95% CI, 0.23 to 0.99; P = .05), a longer interval between the last dose of intravenous chemotherapy and death (median, 64.00 days [range, 3 to 406 days] v 40.50 days [range, 6 to 287 days]; P = .02), and higher enrollment in hospice care for longer than 1 week (60.0% [36 of 60 patients] v 33.3% [21 of 63 patients]; P = .004).
Conclusion: Although patients with metastatic NSCLC received similar numbers of chemotherapy regimens in the sample, early palliative care optimized the timing of final chemotherapy administration and transition to hospice services, key measures of quality end-of-life care.