Anticancer Therapy at the End of Life: Lessons From a Community Cancer Institute

J Palliat Care. 2021 Apr;36(2):87-92. doi: 10.1177/0825859719851484. Epub 2019 Jun 12.


Introduction: Studies have shown aggressive cancer care at the end of life is associated with decreased quality of life, decreased median survival, and increased cost of care. This study describes the patients most likely to receive systemic anticancer therapy at the end of life in a community cancer institute.

Materials and methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study of 201 patients who received systemic anticancer therapy in our institution and died between July 2016 and April 2017. Data collected included primary malignancy, hospice enrollment, healthcare utilization, Oncology Care Model (OCM) enrollment, and clinical assessments at last office visit prior to a treatment decision before death. We defined our outcome variable as the receipt of anticancer treatment in the last 14 days of a patient's life. We evaluated 20 clinical exposure variables with respect to the outcome classes. Risk ratios along with their associated confidence intervals and P values were calculated. Significance was determined using the Benjamini-Hochberg procedure to account for multiple testing.

Results: Of the 201 patients who died of cancer, 36 (17%) received anticancer therapy within the last 14 days of life. Several risk factors were significantly positively associated with receiving anticancer therapy at the end of life including hospitalization within 30 days of end of life, number of hospitalizations per patient (≥2), death in hospital, enrollment in OCM, and a diagnosis of hematologic malignancy.

Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate those enrolled in the OCM and those with hematologic malignancies have a higher risk of receiving anticancer therapy in the last 14 days of life. These observations highlight the need for better identifying the needs of high-risk patients and providing good quality care throughout the disease trajectory to better align end-of-life care with patients' wishes.

Keywords: Oncology Care Model; anticancer therapy; end of life; hematologic malignancy.

MeSH terms

  • Death
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Palliative Care
  • Quality of Life
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care*