Background: The use of systemic therapy near the end of life can expose cancer patients to severe toxicity for minimal survival gain and comes with a high cost. Early palliative care is recommended, but there is evidence that aggressive care remains common. To better understand those patterns, the present study set out to describe trends in systemic therapy use and cost for cancer patients in the last year of life.
Methods: Using the BC Cancer Registry, a retrospective population-based cohort of cancer decedents (2002-2007) was identified and linked to systemic therapy records. The outcomes of interest were any systemic therapy use and total systemic therapy costs during the last year of life. Multiple logistic regression (systemic therapy use) and generalized linear regression (costs) were conducted, adjusting for age, sex, and survival. Subgroup analyses were performed for patients with primary colorectal, lung, prostate, or breast cancer.
Results: From 2002 to 2007, use of systemic therapy in the last 12-4 months of life increased by 21% (95% ci: 10% to 33%); no significant change in use in the last 3 months of life was observed. Costs for both periods increased over time, by 48% (95% ci: 36% to 63%) and by 33% (95% ci: 19% to 49%) respectively. The trends varied across cancer sites, with the greatest increases being observed for lung and colorectal cancer patients.
Conclusions: The use and costs of systemic therapy have generally been increasing, putting pressure on health care providers and payers, but the quality-of-life implications for patients must be better understood.
Keywords: Systemic therapy; chemotherapy; costs; end-of-life care; palliative care.