Purpose: When the goal of treatment is palliative, the most important outcome is improving patient quality of life. The authors describe the major concerns of terminally ill cancer patients with a prognosis of 6 months of less.
Overview: In phase I of this three-part study, 74 terminally ill patients were interviewed to identify their major concerns. In phase II, interviews with 120 terminally ill cancer patients showed that their most important concerns encompass existential, spiritual, familial, physical, and emotional issues. Phase III will determine the validity and reliability of a quality-of-life scale based on these patients' most important concerns. The information presented here summarizes the results of interviews from phases I and II.
Clinical implications: Patients were receptive to being interviewed and remarked on the relevance and importance of these issues to their own experience. Several patients commented that although their disease was assessed and reassessed throughout their care, the existential, spiritual, familial, and emotional aspects of their illness rarely were a focus of their care. Healthcare professionals can create an atmosphere in which these patients feel comfortable exploring the quality-of-life issues that are most important to them. The systematic assessment of patient concerns about quality of life may complement disease assessment and facilitate referrals to appropriate members of the healthcare team. The wide range of concerns reported suggests that a team approach, including physicians, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and chaplains, is the most effective way to meet the needs of terminally ill patients.