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Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2002 Sep-Oct;19(5):351-5.

Gastrointestinal symptoms among inpatients with advanced cancer.

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The Harry R. Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center, Ohio, USA.


Nearly one-half of the most frequently reported and most distressing symptoms in patients with advanced cancer are gastrointestinal in nature. This prospective study was designed to assess the frequency of gastrointestinal symptoms among inpatients admitted to a palliative medicine program with advanced cancer. Twenty-nine men and 2l women, with a median age of 64 years (range, 35-84), were interviewed about 17 gastrointestinal symptoms. Age, gender, diagnosis, and medication use were also recorded The most common diagnoses were cancers of the lung (n = 14), breast (n = 6), and prostate (n = 4). Dry mouth (84 percent), weight loss (76 percent), early satiety (71 percent), taste change (60 percent), constipation (58 percent), anorexia (56 percent), bloating (50 percent), nausea (48 percent), abdominal pain (42 percent), and vomiting (34 percent) were the 10 most common gastrointestinal symptoms. Women had more gastrointestinal symptoms than men (median 8 vs. 6, p = 0.018), although this finding was not statistically significant (p = 0.11) after excluding gender-specific cancers. Women had more taste change and diarrhea than men after excluding gender-specific cancers (p = 0.036 and p = 0.046, respectively). Those with primary gastrointestinal cancers (n = 8) had more indigestion and hiccups than those with nongastrointestinal cancers (n = 39). There was no age difference in symptomatology. The drugs prescribed most commonly were opioids (n = 40), laxatives (n = 38), H2 blockers (n = 29), appetite stimulants (n = 29), and antiemetics (n = 29). Findings support that gastrointestinal symptoms are very common in hospitalized patients with advanced cancer and that the frequency and type of symptoms differ with gender and gastrointestinal vs. nongastrointestinal primary site.

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