Purpose: An American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) provisional clinical opinion (PCO) offers timely clinical direction to ASCO’s membership following publication or presentation of potentially practice-changing data from major studies. This PCO addresses the integration of palliative care services into standard oncology practice at the time a person is diagnosed with metastatic or advanced cancer.
Clinical Context: Palliative care is frequently misconstrued as synonymous with end-of-life care. Palliative care is focused on the relief of suffering, in all of its dimensions, throughout the course of a patient’s illness. Although the use of hospice and other palliative care services at the end of life has increased, many patients are enrolled in hospice less than 3 weeks before their death, which limits the benefit they may gain from these services. By potentially improving quality of life (QOL), cost of care, and even survival in patients with metastatic cancer, palliative care has increasing relevance for the care of patients with cancer. Until recently, data from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) demonstrating the benefits of palliative care in patients with metastatic cancer who are also receiving standard oncology care have not been available.
Recent Data: Seven published RCTs form the basis of this PCO.
Provisional Clinical Opinion: Based on strong evidence from a phase III RCT, patients with metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer should be offered concurrent palliative care and standard oncologic care at initial diagnosis. While a survival benefit from early involvement of palliative care has not yet been demonstrated in other oncology settings, substantial evidence demonstrates that palliative care—when combined with standard cancer care or as the main focus of care—leads to better patient and caregiver outcomes. These include improvement in symptoms, QOL, and patient satisfaction, with reduced caregiver burden. Earlier involvement of palliative care also leads to more appropriate referral to and use of hospice, and reduced use of futile intensive care. While evidence clarifying optimal delivery of palliative care to improve patient outcomes is evolving, no trials to date have demonstrated harm to patients and caregivers, or excessive costs, from early involvement of palliative care. Therefore, it is the Panel’s expert consensus that combined standard oncology care and palliative care should be considered early in the course of illness for any patient with metastatic cancer and/or high symptom burden. Strategies to optimize concurrent palliative care and standard oncology care, with evaluation of its impact on important patient and caregiver outcomes (eg, QOL, survival, health care services utilization, and costs) and on society, should be an area of intense research.
To discuss this guideline, visit the ASCOconnection.org Practice forum. Log in with your asco.org username and password to comment.
Disclaimer: The clinical practice guidelines and other guidance published herein are provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. ("ASCO") to assist practitioners in clinical decision making. The information therein should not be relied upon as being complete or accurate, nor should it be considered as inclusive of all proper treatments or methods of care or as a statement of the standard of care. With the rapid development of scientific knowledge, new evidence may emerge between the time information is developed and when it is published or read. The information is not continually updated and may not reflect the most recent evidence. The information addresses only the topics specifically identified therein and is not applicable to other interventions, diseases, or stages of diseases. This information does not mandate any particular course of medical care. Further, the information is not intended to substitute for the independent professional judgment of the treating physician, as the information does not account for individual variation among patients. Recommendations reflect high, moderate or low confidence that the recommendation reflects the net effect of a given course of action. The use of words like "must," "must not," "should," and "should not" indicate that a course of action is recommended or not recommended for either most or many patients, but there is latitude for the treating physician to select other courses of action in individual cases. In all cases, the selected course of action should be considered by the treating physician in the context of treating the individual patient. Use of the information is voluntary. ASCO provides this information on an "as is" basis, and makes no warranty, express or implied, regarding the information. ASCO specifically disclaims any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular use or purpose. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of this information or for any errors or omissions.
Last Updated: 2/21/12