Background: Patients with advanced lung cancer constitute a special focus in palliative care not only for epidemiological or prognostic reasons, but also because their symptom burden is felt to be widespread and difficult to treat. This study describes disease-specific characteristics and the symptom burden of patients with advanced incurable lung cancer, comparing them with patients suffering from other diseaseentities.
Methods: A secondary analysis of the nationwide Hospice and Palliative Care Evaluation (HOPE) was performed, by focussing on inpatient hospice and palliative care unit patients and by using descriptive methods.
Results: From 2006 to 2008, 5487 inpatients were registered, 874 of which were diagnosed with lung cancer and 1884 with pulmonary metastases. Symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, or pain were most prevalent in all subgroups. Dyspnea was significantly more prevalent in all patients with different kinds of pulmonary tumor manifestations; confusion was significantly more prevalent in patients with lung cancer. Dyspnea could not be treated as effectively as pain or nausea. Confusion and nursing problems worsened during the observation period. Dyspnea and confusion were associated with increased risk of death during the observational period.
Conclusion: The symptom pattern of patients with lung cancer is characterized by dyspnea and confusion--symptoms that are difficult to treat until discharge and that imply a worse prognosis. Therefore, increased research on the pathophysiology and treatment of dyspnea and confusion is required, and efforts in advance care planning and anticipation of dyspnea and confusion as a critical symptom in patients with lung cancer should be reinforced.