Purpose: To describe the trajectory of physical symptoms among cancer decedents who were receiving home care in the six months before death.
Patients and methods: An observational cohort study of cancer decedents in Ontario, Canada, who received home care services between 2007 and 2014. To be included, decedents had to use at least one home care service in the last six months of life. Outcomes were the presence of pain and several other physical symptoms at each week before death.
Results: Our cohort included 27,295 cancer decedents (30,368 assessments). Forty-seven percent were female and 56% were age 75 years or older. The prevalence of all physical symptoms increased as one approached death, particularly in the last month of life. In the last weeks of life, 69% of patients reported having moderate-severe pain; however, only 20% reported that the pain was not controlled. Loss of appetite (63%), shortness of breath (59%), high health instability (50%), and self-reported poor health (44%) were also highly prevalent in the last week of life. Multivariate regression showed that caregiver distress, high health instability, social decline, uncontrolled pain, and signs of depression all worsened the odds of having a physical symptom in the last 3 months of life.
Conclusion: In this large home care cancer cohort, trajectories of physical symptoms worsened close to death. While presence of moderate-severe pain was common, it was also reported as mostly controlled. Covariates, such as caregiver distress and social decline, were associated with having more physical symptoms at end of life.
Keywords: cancer; end of life; home care; palliative; symptoms.