Radiation therapy at the end of life in patients with incurable nonsmall cell lung cancer

Cancer. 2012 Sep 1;118(17):4339-45. doi: 10.1002/cncr.27401. Epub 2012 Jan 17.


Background: Receipt of chemotherapy at the end of life (EOL) is considered an indicator of poor quality of care for medical oncology. The objective of this study was to characterize the use of radiotherapy (RT) in patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) during the same period.

Methods: Treatment characteristics of patients with incurable NSCLC who received RT at the EOL, defined as within 14 days of death, were analyzed from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network NSCLC Outcomes Database.

Results: Among 1098 patients who died, 10% had received EOL RT. Patients who did and did not receive EOL RT were similar in terms of sex, race, comorbid disease, and Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status. On multivariable logistic regression analysis, independent predictors of receiving EOL RT included stage IV disease (odds ratio [OR], 2.04; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.09-3.83) or multiorgan involvement (OR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.08-2.84) at diagnosis, age <65 years at diagnosis (OR, 1.85; 95% CI, 1.21-2.83), and treating institution (OR, 1.24-5.94; P = .02). Nearly 50% of EOL RT recipients did not complete it, most commonly because of death or patient preference.

Conclusions: In general, EOL RT was received infrequently, was delivered more commonly to younger patients with more advanced disease, and often was not completed as planned. There also was considerable variation in its use among National Comprehensive Cancer Network institutions. Next steps include expanding this research to other cancers and settings and investigating the clinical benefit of such treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / radiotherapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference
  • Radiotherapy / methods
  • Radiotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Terminal Care / methods*