Palliative Care in Surgery: Defining the Research Priorities

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To describe the existing science of palliative care in surgery within three priority areas and expose specific gaps within the field.


Given the acute and often life-limiting nature of surgical illness, as well as the potential for treatment to induce further suffering, surgical patients have considerable palliative care needs. Yet these patients are less likely to receive palliative care than their medical counterparts and palliative care consultations often occur when death is imminent, reflecting poor quality end-of-life care.


The National Institutes of Health and the National Palliative Care Research Center convened researchers from several medical subspecialties to develop a national agenda for palliative care research. The surgeon work group reviewed the existing surgical literature to identify critical knowledge gaps.


To date, evidence to support the role of palliative care in surgical practice is sparse and palliative care research in surgery is encumbered by methodological challenges and entrenched cultural norms that impede appropriate provision of palliative care. Priorities for future research on palliative care in surgery include: 1) measuring outcomes that matter to patients, 2) communication and decision making, and 3) delivery of palliative care to surgical patients.


Surgical patients would likely benefit from early palliative care delivered alongside surgical treatment to promote goal-concordant decision making and to improve patients’ physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being and quality of life. We propose a research agenda to address major gaps in the literature and provide a road map for future investigation.

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