Rationale: A growing evidence base supports provision of palliative care services alongside life-prolonging care. Whereas palliative care processes have been implemented widely in the care of patients with lung cancer, the same is not true for patients with chronic, progressive lung disease.
Objectives: To compare the symptom burden of chronic lung disease with that of lung cancer at the time of initial palliative care consultation.
Methods: Data were abstracted from the Carolinas Palliative Care Consortium's Quality Data Collection Tool, an electronic database used by seven academic and community palliative care practices in multiple states for quality improvement purposes. We analyzed data derived from first palliative care encounters collected during a 2-year period, including the primary diagnosis of chronic lung disease or lung cancer, unresolved symptoms, setting of initial palliative care encounter, Palliative Performance Scale status, and on that basis we estimated prognosis for survival. We compared key clinical variables between chronic lung disease and lung cancer using Kruskal-Wallis and χ(2) tests.
Measurements and main results: We identified 152 patients with lung cancer and 86 patients with chronic lung disease. Of the total sample, 53% were women and 87% were white. Patients with chronic lung disease were more likely than those with lung cancer to have the initial palliative care encounter occur in the intensive care unit (17% vs. 6%; P = 0.005) and less likely as an outpatient (20% vs. 56%; P < 0.0001). Patients with chronic lung disease were also less likely to have a high Palliative Performance Scale status (14% vs. 30%; P = 0.009) but more likely to have an estimated prognosis for survival longer than 6 months (51% vs. 28%; P = 0.002). The most prevalent symptoms were dyspnea (55% vs. 42%) and pain (40% vs. 52%), neither of which differed between groups (P = 0.08).
Conclusions: Patients with chronic lung disease have symptom burdens similar to those of patients with lung cancer at the time of first palliative care encounter. Given the population burden of chronic lung disease and limitations in the palliative care workforce, attention should be focused on ensuring that pulmonologists are prepared to assess and manage the common palliative care needs of patients with chronic lung disease.
Keywords: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; dyspnea; palliative care.