Dilemmas in palliative chemotherapy when approaching end-of-life
Sammanfattning: Background When cure is no longer possible, medical care should aim for a transition to palliative care regardless of disease. Patients with incurable cancer are often treated with palliative chemotherapy (PCT), starting with the intent to prolong life and increase quality of life. Eventually, in the late stages of the disease, the patient reaches a transition phase when further PCT neither prolongs life nor adds any predominantly positive effects.Aim of the thesisStudy I: To analyse the proportion of patients with incurable cancer who received palliative chemotherapy during the last month of life, and to identify their discriminative characteristics.Study II: To develop a questionnaire assessing performance status in palliative chemotherapy, and to test its psychometric properties.Study III: To explore challenging situations experienced by registered nurses when administering palliative chemotherapy to patients with incurable cancer.Study IV: To investigate whether routine use of the Performance Status in Palliative Chemotherapy (PSPC) questionnaire in PCT would affect the proportion of patients receiving PCT during the last month of life, hospital admissions, notifications of performance status, documented decisions of ceasing PCT in the medical records, and/or place of death. A secondary aim was to gather registered nurses’ experiences of PSPC in clinical use.Methods In Studies I and IV, information from the medical records of deceased patients with epithelial cancers was used in descriptive analyses of the proportions of patients receiving PCT in counties in northernmost Sweden. A quantitative design was chosen, using non-parametric statistical methods. In Study II, a brief patient-completed questionnaire assessing performance status was developed and psychometrically tested. In Study III, data from research interviews with registered nurses were analysed qualitatively with a narrative thematic approach.Results Studies I and IV showed that about 25% of patients receiving PCT were treated during the last month of life. This group of patients had more hospital admissions, were less likely to die at home, and had fewer instances of documentation of the decision to cease PCT. The questionnaire developed in Study II was shown to have acceptable psychometric qualities such as reliability, validity, and sensitivity to detect deterioration in performance status. Study IV showed that the questionnaire gave nurses valuable information about patients’ performance status. The results also showed that 97% of nurses and 48% of physicians documented their patients’ performance status in the medical records. Study III demonstrated that when nurses administered PCT they considered futile, they could experience dilemmas created by the unforeseeable outcomes of PCT or stemming from insufficient communication between nurses, patients, next-of-kin, and physicians.Conclusions Administration of PCT can create dilemmatic situations for both the patient and medical staff when approaching end-of-life. This is underlined by the finding that some 25% of treated patients received their last round of PCT as late as during the last month of life. The decisions to cease PCT were less likely to be documented for patients who had received PCT within a month before death. Nurses described situations where they felt they were in the middle of the decision-making process regarding whether or not to continue PCT. They found the treatments were given on the authority of someone else; the physician’s recommendation or the patient’s and/or relatives’ request.The unpredictability of PCT was a continuous theme in the work described in this thesis, emphasizing the necessity of individually assessing every patient before PCT in order to minimize the risk of futile treatments. The attempt to develop a reliable and valid questionnaire for systematic assessment of performance status has increased future possibilities to monitor this parameter in PCT when approaching end-of-life. The questionnaire developed as part of this thesis has provided nurses with increased knowledge of patients’ performance status. If routinely used, it may help decrease the proportion of patients receiving PCT during the last month of life, though this remains to be rigorously proven. Further research efforts are needed to progress in the task of optimizing rather than maximizing the use of PCT when approaching end-of-life.
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