Changes in medication use in a cohort of patients with advanced cancer: The international multicentre prospective European Palliative Care Cancer Symptom study

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Information on medication use in the last months of life is limited.


To describe which medications are prescribed and deprescribed in advanced cancer patients receiving palliative care in relation to time before death and to explore associations with demographic variables.


Prospective study, using case report forms for monthly data collection. Medication included cancer treatment and 19 therapeutic groups, grouped into four categories for: (1) cancer therapy, (2) specific cancer-related symptom relief, (3) other symptom relief and (4) long-term prevention. Data were analysed retrospectively using death as the index date. We compared medication use at 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 month(s) before death by constructing five cross-sectional subsamples with medication use during that month. Paired analyses were done on a subsample of patients with at least two assessments before death.


We studied the medication use of 720 patients (mean age 67, 56% male) in 30 cancer centres representing 12 countries.


From 5 to 1 month(s) before death, cancer therapy decreased (55%–24%), most medications for symptom relief increased, for example, opioids (62%–81%) and sedatives (35%–46%), but medication for long-term prevention decreased (38%–27%). The prevalence of chemotherapy was 15.5% in the last month of life, with 9% of new courses started in the last 2 months. With higher age, chemotherapy and opioid use decreased.


Medications for symptom relief increased in almost all medication groups. Deprescribing was found in heart medication/anti-hypertensives and cancer therapy, although use of the latter remained relatively high.

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