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Referrals to palliative care come too late to improve quality of life for cancer patients

Alexandria, VA-- Referrals to palliative care often come too late to improve quality of life for patients with cancer, a new study has found. A survey of family members of people who have died of cancer in Japan found that nearly half of respondents believed that referrals to palliative care were given too late in the course of the illness.

The study, which will be published online February 22 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO), is the first to investigate perceptions about referrals to end-of-life care among family members of cancer patients.

"Earlier referrals to palliative care are essential to alleviate suffering and improve treatment outcomes and quality of life for people with cancer," said Tatsuya Morita, MD, Department of Palliative and Supportive Care, Palliative Care Team and Seirei Hospice in Shizuoka, Japan, and lead author of the study. "Patients and their families should feel comfortable discussing end of life care with their physicians and each other so that palliative care services can be given at the most appropriate moment for the patient."

Palliative care treats the physical, spiritual, psychological, and social needs of a person with cancer, both during cancer treatment and at the end of life.

Researchers in Japan gave detailed questionnaires to 318 family members of cancer patients who had received end-of-life palliative care services. The survey asked respondents about their perception of the timing of referral to care, as well as their perceptions of the quality of palliative care.

The greatest proportion of respondents believed that palliative care referrals were given late (30%) or very late (19%). Forty-eight percent of families thought that referral timing was appropriate, while only 3.8% said that it was early or very early.

A number of factors determined the timing of palliative care referrals. Families who reported late or very late referrals were significantly less likely to
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