ASCO Provisional Clinical Opinion: The Integration of Palliative Care into Standard Oncology Care

Published in Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 30, Issue 8 (March), 2012: 880-887
Thomas J. Smith, Sarah Temin, Erin R. Alesi, Amy P. Abernethy, Tracy A. Balboni, Ethan M. Basch, Betty R. Ferrell, Matt Loscalzo, Diane E. Meier, Judith A. Paice, Jeffrey M. Peppercorn, Mark Somerfield, Ellen Stovall, and Jamie H. Von Roenn

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.

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Last Updated: 2/21/12