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J Clin Oncol. 2005 Mar 20;23(9):2012-9.

Attitudes of patients with incurable cancer toward medical treatment in the last phase of life.

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Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



When cancer has advanced to a stage in which cure becomes unlikely, patients may have to consider the aim of further treatment. We studied the relationship of patients' attitudes toward treatment with advance care planning and the development of these attitudes after diagnosis of incurable cancer.


Patients with incurable cancer were interviewed and asked to fill out a written questionnaire about their attitudes concerning life-prolonging treatment and end-of-life decision making. These questions were repeated after 6 and 12 months.


One hundred twenty-two patients (mean age, 64 years; standard deviation, 10.5 years; 53% women) participated in the study. Patients' attitudes toward treatment could be categorized into the following three different profiles: striving for quality of life, striving for length of life, and no clear preference. Patients who were older, more tired, or had less positive feelings and patients who had more often taken initiatives to engage in advance care planning were more inclined to strive for quality of life than others. Patients with a history of cancer of less than 6 months were more inclined to prefer life prolongation than patients with a longer history of cancer. During follow-up, no changes in attitudes toward treatment were found, except for patients with a short history of cancer in whom the inclination to strive for length decreased.


Patients who appreciate advance care planning were more inclined to strive for quality of life than other patients. Shortly after the diagnosis of cancer, patients typically seem to prefer life-prolonging treatment, whereas quality of life becomes more important when death is nearing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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