People with advanced cancer benefit in a number of ways if they’re consulted about pain relief measures when they go to an emergency room, a new study suggests.
The clinical trial included 69 patients who received a so-called palliative care consultation, and 67 patients who received usual care in the emergency department.
Palliative care is a type of therapy for very ill patients with the goal of offering support and pain relief without attempting to cure the underlying cause of the pain.
In the new study, people in the palliative care group reported having a better quality of life, and lived longer than those in the usual care group — a median of 289 days versus 132 days, respectively, the researchers found.
However, the study only found an association between these factors and could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
There were no significant differences between the two groups in rates of depression, admission to intensive care or discharge to a hospice, according to the study published online Jan. 14 in the journal JAMA Oncology.
“Emergency department-initiated palliative care consultation improved quality of life in patients with advanced cancer and does not seem to shorten survival,” Dr. Corita Grudzen, of New York University, and colleagues concluded. However, the impact on health care utilization and depression needs more study, they pointed out in a journal news release.
Dr. Eduardo Bruera, the author of an accompanying editorial, wrote: “This study has demonstrated that an emergency department visit by a patient with advanced cancer can provide a unique opportunity for improved access to palliative care and quality of life.”
But, added Bruera, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, “Where do we go from here? It is important to define and test criteria for palliative care referral from the emergency department in daily clinical practices.”
In addition, he explained, “It will also be important to understand the attitudes and adherence of patients when referred to outpatient palliative care from the emergency department. In view of the findings of this study, this research is much needed and justified.”
The American Cancer Society has more about palliative care.