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J Palliat Med. 2010 Jun;13(6):727-32. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2009.0399.

Implementing WHO recommendations for palliative care into routine lung cancer therapy: a feasibility project.

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Department of Palliative Medicine, University Hospital, Cologne, Germany.



The World Health Organization (WHO) explicitly recommends the integration of palliative care (PC) early in the disease trajectory as part of the WHO definition of PC. Our comprehensive cancer centre decided to include this recommendation in the administrative directives for principles of cancer care. The aim of this study was to assess, for patients with lung cancer, (a) at what point in the disease trajectory the patients were first provided PC and (b) whether - over one year - an earlier integration of PC could be achieved.


A retrospective systematic chart analysis of a two year period was performed. We assumed that seeing patients relatively early during the course of the illness would be reflected by seeing patients that would be not already (i) in a reduced performance status, (ii) experiencing symptoms that are indicators for advanced disease (e.g., dyspnoea and pain) and (iii) close to death. Therefore, the first PC consultation for every lung cancer patient was analyzed to assess in what physical condition patients receive first PC consultation, what burdening symptoms they already experienced and how long the patients lived after their first consultations.


Most patients were already in a reduced physical state, were experiencing burdening symptoms and many died shortly after the first PC consultation. After a one year period, the number of burdening symptoms identified at first PC consultation and the admissions to the in-patient PC was decreased while non-PC physicians increasingly requested PC support for psychosocial interventions.


Though some degree of development towards a better understanding of PC competencies and the "early integration" approach could be demonstrated, the adoption of the WHO recommendation alone did not suffice to integrate PC into routine cancer care early in the course of the illness. Therefore, the development of disease specific guidelines is advocated by our working group.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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