Purpose: The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends concurrent palliative care (PC) for patients with metastatic cancer. Recent data show benefits of early PC (at least 90 days before death). However, little is known about PC among patients who die from metastatic breast cancer.
Methods: Patients with metastatic breast cancer at a comprehensive cancer center. Analysis of medical records and clinician and patient surveys. Assess referral patterns and value to patients at the end of life (EOL) of a specialty PC service embedded in a breast oncology program; compare to a prior period of stand-alone PC.
Results: In the 18-month study period, oncologists referred for palliative care 105 of their 515 (20.4%) patients; 59 (11.5%) patients were seen by the PC physician. Of the 38 referred patients who died, 23 (60.5%) were seen by embedded PC and all 23 received PC within 90 days of death; 0 of 18 decedents with data available for analysis had ICU stays within 30 days of death. In an earlier 24-month period of stand-alone PC, 43 patients died after receiving PC, but only 11 (25.5%) received PC within 90 days of death (p < 0.01) and 7 of 43 had ICU stays within 30 days of death (p = 0.074).
Conclusions: Embedded PC was well-received by patients and oncologists, increased early PC referrals, and improved EOL care. Avoidable, unnecessary health care utilization at the end of life, such as ICU stays in the last month of life, represent an important potential reduction in patient suffering and system costs.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Concurrent care; End-of-life care; Palliative care.