Differences in Utilization of Life Support and End-of-Life Care for Medical ICU Patients With Versus Without Cancer

Crit Care Med. 2017 Apr;45(4):e379-e383. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000002260.


Objectives: To explore differences in the utilization of life support and end-of-life care between patients dying in the medical ICU with cancer compared with those without cancer.

Design: Retrospective review of 403 deaths or hospice transfers in the medical ICU from January 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.

Setting: Urban tertiary care university hospital.

Patients: Consecutive medical ICU deaths or hospice transfers over an 18-month period.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: One hundred eighty-two patients (45%) had a diagnosis of active cancer and 221 (55%) did not. Despite similar severity of illness, there were significant differences in the use of life support and end-of-life care. Patients without cancer had longer medical ICU length of stay (median, 5 vs 4 d; p = 0.0495), used mechanical ventilation more often and for longer (83.7% vs 70.9%, p = 0.002; 4 vs 3 d, p = 0.017), and initiated dialysis more frequently (26.7% vs 14.8%; p = 0.0038). Patients without active cancer had family meetings later (median, 3 vs 2 d; p = 0.001), less frequent palliative care consultation (17.6% vs 32.4%; p = 0.0006), and took longer to transition to do not resuscitate or comfort care (median, 4 vs 3 d; p = 0.048).

Conclusions: Among patients dying in the medical ICU, the diagnosis of active cancer influences the intensity of life support utilization and the quality of end-of-life care. Patients with active cancer use less life support and may receive better end-of-life care than similar patients without cancer. These differences are likely due to biases or misunderstandings about the trajectory of advanced nonmalignant disease among patients, families, and perhaps providers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Hospice Care
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Life Support Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patient Transfer
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Renal Dialysis / statistics & numerical data
  • Respiration, Artificial / statistics & numerical data
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data*