Palliative care needs at different phases in the illness trajectory: a survey study in patients with cancer

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Despite the growing consensus on the benefits of initiating palliative care early in the disease trajectory, it remains unclear at what point palliative care needs emerge. This study investigates quality of life and unmet palliative care needs at three phases in the cancer trajectory, curative, life-prolonging and most advanced (prognosis <6 months/no further disease-modifying treatment). We collected self-reported data from 620 patients with cancer in the University Hospital of Ghent, Belgium. They completed a questionnaire on quality of life (using the EORTC QLQ-C30) and unmet care needs within the domains of palliative care. We used European reference values of the EORTC QLQ-C30 to compare the mean scores with a norm group. The groups further on in the cancer trajectory reported statistically and clinically poorer functioning compared with earlier phases, also when controlled for the effects of sex, age or type of cancer. Higher symptom burdens for fatigue, pain, dyspnoea and appetite loss were found in groups further into the trajectory, p < .001. Patients in the curative phase experienced physical symptoms and had clinically worse functioning than a European reference group. This paper demonstrates the ongoing need for oncologists to address the broader palliative care needs of patients from diagnosis onwards.

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