Background: Chemotherapy use closer to the end of life is becoming an important issue in cancer care. There are now multiple studies and local reviews addressing this issue. Understanding the practice locally will give valuable insight and opportunity for improvement.
Methods: The study is a retrospective chart review of patients on chemotherapy at the Windsor Regional Cancer Center who died between April 1st, 2016 to December 31st, 2018. Information on demographics, type of cancer, type, intent and route of chemotherapy, line of chemotherapy, referral to hospice and palliative care services was collected.
Results: A total of 681 patients on chemotherapy died between April 1st, 2016 to Dec 13th, 2018. Of these, 119 (17.4 %) passed away within 30 days following chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was parenteral (Intravenous and Subcutaneous) for the majority (75.2%) of the patients. Most (66.4%) of the patients died of disease progression. Intent for chemotherapy was palliative in 85% of patients, adjuvant/neoadjuvant in 6.6% and curative in 8.4% of the patients. Chemotherapy was 1st, 2nd, 3rd line or more in 67.4%, 21.3% and 11.3% of the patients respectively. The type of chemotherapy was conventional in 74.3% of patients and targeted/immunotherapy in 25.7% of patients.
Of the variables studied, lack of palliative referral and having lung cancer or melanoma were significantly associated with higher risk of getting chemotherapy within the last four weeks of life. The odds of getting chemotherapy in within the last four weeks of life is 0.35, 95% CI (0.24-0.53), P <0.001 for those who were referred to palliative care. On the other hand, the odds of getting chemotherapy was 4.18, 95% CI (1.17-13.71), P = 0.037 and 2.21, 95% CI (1.24-4.01), P = 0.037 for those with melanoma and lung cancer respectively.
Conclusion: Administration of chemotherapy within the last 30 days of life could cause unnecessary suffering to patients and cost to society. Early referral to palliative care was significantly associated with reduced risk of getting chemotherapy within the last 30 days of life in this study. Prospective study is recommended to further investigate the role of early palliative referral on use of chemotherapy during the last 30 days of life.