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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Mar;37(3):297-304. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2008.03.008. Epub 2008 Aug 9.

The association of physical and psychological symptom burden with time to death among palliative cancer outpatients.

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Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.


Previous studies have reported on the symptom burden of cancer inpatients, but outpatient studies have been few and have not examined the association of symptoms with time to death (TTD). Cancer patients seen in an oncology palliative care clinic from January 2005 to June 2006 and who subsequently died were identified from a palliative care database. Data from the last outpatient Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) score completed in clinic were analyzed among patients who were followed during the last four months of life. Multiple linear regression analyses with Bonferroni adjustment were used to determine the association of ESAS total symptom distress score (TSDS), physical subscore (PHS), psychological subscore (PSS), and individual symptom scores with demographic parameters, disease characteristics, and TTD. Data from 198 patients were analyzed. All had stage IV cancer, the median age was 65, and 55% were men. There was no significant association between symptom burden and age, gender, or cancer site. TTD was significantly associated with TSDS (P=0.001) and PHS (P=0.001) but not with PSS (P=1.0). Individual symptoms most strongly associated with TTD were lack of appetite (P=0.001), drowsiness (P=0.006), dyspnea (P=0.009), and fatigue (P=0.01). There was no significant association between TTD and anxiety (P=1.0) or depression (P=1.0). Lack of appetite, drowsiness, dyspnea and fatigue represent a cluster of symptoms that tend to intensify at the end of life. The lack of intensification of psychological symptoms in relation to time to death is striking and needs to be further investigated using specific validated measures for depression and anxiety.

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