Defining cancer patients as being in the terminal phase: Who receives a formal diagnosis, and what are the effects?

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Purpose: Physicians either do not define cancer patients as being terminal, or their prognostic estimates tend to be optimistic. This might affect patients' appropriate and timely referral to specialist palliative care services or can lead to unintended acute hospitalization. Patients and Methods: We used the Danish Cancer Register and four administrative registers to perform a retrospective cohort study in 3,445 patients who died as a result of cancer. We used the Danish "terminal declaration" issued by a physician as a proxy for a formal terminal diagnosis (prognosis of death within 6 months). The terminal declaration gives right to economic benefits and increased care for the dying. We investigated patient-related factors of receiving an explicit terminal diagnosis by logistic regression and then analyzed the effects of such a diagnosis on admission rate per week and place of death. Results: Thirty-four percent of patients received a formal terminal diagnosis. Age of ≥ 70 years (odds ratio [OR], 0.44; 95% CI, 0.34 to 0.56; P < .001), women (OR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.69 to 0.96; P = .02), hematologic cancer (OR, 0.20; 95% CI, 0.09 to 0.41; P < .001), and a less than 1-month survival time (OR, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.07 to 0.15; P < .001) were associated with a lesser likelihood of receiving a formal terminal diagnosis. Explicit terminal diagnosis was associated with lower admission rate and an adjusted OR of hospital death of 0.25 (95% CI, 0.21 to 0.29). Conclusion: Women and the elderly were less likely to receive a formal terminal diagnosis. The formal terminal diagnosis reduced hospital admissions and increased the possibilities of dying at home.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number30
Pages (from-to)7411-7416
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2005

ID: 324157196