Processes of discontinuing chemotherapy for metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer at the end of life

J Oncol Pract. 2015 May;11(3):e405-12. doi: 10.1200/JOP.2014.002428. Epub 2015 Mar 31.


Purpose: Administration of chemotherapy close to death is widely recognized as poor-quality care. Prior research has focused on predictors and outcomes of chemotherapy administration at the end of life. This study describes processes of chemotherapy discontinuation and examines their relationships with timing before death, hospice referral, and hospital death.

Patients and methods: We reviewed health records of a prospective cohort of 151 patients with newly diagnosed metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer who participated in a trial of early palliative care. Chemotherapy treatments during final regimen were qualitatively analyzed to identify categories of discontinuation processes. We then quantitatively compared predictors and outcomes of the process categories.

Results: A total of 144 patients died, with 81 and 48 receiving intravenous (IV) and oral chemotherapies as their final regimen, respectively. Five processes were identified for IV chemotherapy: definitive decisions (19.7%), deferred decisions or breaks (22.2%), disruptions for radiation therapy (22.2%), disruptions resulting from hospitalization (27.2%), and no decisions (8.6%). The five processes occurred at significantly different times before death and, except for definitive decisions, ultimate decisions for no further chemotherapy and referral to hospice were often made months later. Among patients receiving oral chemotherapy, 83.3% (40 of 48) were switched from IV to oral delivery as their final regimen, sometimes concurrent with or even after hospice referral.

Conclusion: Date of last chemotherapy is not a proxy for when a decision to stop treatment is made. Patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer stop their final chemotherapy regimen via different processes, which significantly vary in time before death and subsequent end-of-life care.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Administration, Oral
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / secondary
  • Databases, Factual
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Female
  • Hospice Care
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care
  • Terminal Care / methods*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Withholding Treatment*