Specialist Palliative Care Use and End-of-Life Care in Patients With Metastatic Cancer

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2024 May;67(5):357-365.e15. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2024.01.029. Epub 2024 Jan 24.


Context: For patients with advanced cancer, high intensity treatment at the end of life is measured as a reflection of the quality of care. Use of specialist palliative care has been promoted to improve care quality, but whether its use is associated with decreased treatment intensity on a population-level is unknown.

Objectives: To determine whether receipt of specialist palliative care use is associated with differences in end-of-life quality metrics in patients with metastatic cancer.

Methods: Retrospective propensity-matched cohort of patients age ≥ 65 who died with metastatic cancer in U.S. hospitals with palliative care programs that participated in the National Palliative Care Registry in 2018-2019. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to assess the impact of specialist palliative care on use of chemotherapy in the last 14 days of life, use of intensive care unit (ICU) in the last 30 days of life, use of hospice, and hospice enrollment ≥ three days.

Results: After 1:2 matching, our cohort consisted of 15,878 exposed and 31,756 unexposed patients. Receipt of specialist palliative care was associated with a decrease in use of chemotherapy (adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) 0.59 [0.50-0.70]) and ICU at the end of life (aHR 0.86 [0.80-0.92]), and an increase in hospice use (aHR 1.92 [1.85-1.99]) and hospice enrollment for ≥three days (aHR 2.00 [1.93-2.07]).

Conclusion: On a population-level, use of specialist palliative care was associated with improved metrics for quality end-of-life care for patients dying with metastatic cancer, underscoring the importance of its integration into cancer care.

Keywords: Hospice; intensive care units; palliative care.

MeSH terms

  • Death
  • Hospice Care*
  • Hospices*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Palliative Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care*