Palliative care for patients around the time of haematopoietic stem cell transplant: a qualitative study of patients' perceptions and experiences of unmet need and attitudes towards palliative care involvement

Support Care Cancer. 2022 Mar;30(3):2253-2261. doi: 10.1007/s00520-021-06556-4. Epub 2021 Oct 29.


Background: Haemato-oncology patients are likely to be referred later to palliative care than patients with solid tumours, despite experiencing similar symptom burden. Patients prior to stem cell transplant may benefit from symptom control, advance care planning and shared decision-making, and previous studies have demonstrated feasibility and benefit of such a service. However, the views of patients are not yet established, and are vital to ensure acceptability of the service.

Aims: To identify areas where a palliative care team may help to support patients being considered for a stem cell transplant, and to explore the attitudes and perceptions of patients towards palliative care at this time.

Design: A qualitative study including interviews (N = 12) and a focus group (N = 4) for patients pre- and post-transplant, using a semi-structured format via telephone, online video-conferencing and face-to-face discussions. Recordings were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

Setting: A tertiary cancer centre in the UK.

Findings: Themes identified were the following: Identified needs, Information and decision-making, Importance of relationships, Changing perceptions of what palliative care means, and The future. Patients associate palliative care with terminal care due to indirect experiences. Patients were open to palliative care once its purpose was explained and described emotional and physical needs relevant to early palliative care.

Conclusions: The involvement of early palliative care alongside haematology treatment prior to stem cell transplant may improve quality of life for patients and facilitate shared decision-making at a crucial stage of treatment. Early palliative care should be offered alongside haematology care around the time of stem cell transplant, with information provided to patients regarding its role.

Keywords: Advance care planning; Decision making; Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation; Palliative care; Qualitative research; Shared.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life