Cough is a common problem among cancer patients, especially lung cancer patients. Gabapentin has been shown to be effective in reducing cough number and severity in patients with idiopathic refractory cough. The authors report here the successful use of gabapentin at usual doses to treat cough in cancer patients, including two with lung cancer, with minimal side effects. Gabapentin may be a useful addition to the symptom management toolbox for palliation of cancer symptoms.
Delirium is a common problem in terminally ill patients that is associated with significant distress and, hence, considered a palliative care emergency. The three subtypes of delirium are hyperactive, hypoactive, and mixed, depending on the level of psychomotor activity and arousal disturbance. When agitated delirium becomes refractory in the setting of imminent dying, the agitation may be so severe that palliative sedation (PS) is required. Palliative sedation involves the administration of sedative medications with the purpose of reducing level of consciousness for patients with refractory suffering in the setting of a terminal illness. Propofol is a sedative that has a short duration of action and a very rapid onset. These characteristics make it relatively easy to titrate. Reported doses range from 50 to 70 mg per hour. The authors present a case of antipsychotic-resistant agitated delirium treated with a propofol intravenous infusion.
Objective: Little data about the management of drugs in terminally ill palliative care cancer patients is available. The present study aimed at describing the evolution of anticancer and non-anticancer treatments (NACTs) in cancer patients in palliative care units. The second objective was to identify factors leading to the medical decision to withdraw or not NACTs.
Methods: Data from 1,091 cancer patients hospitalized in palliative care units were prospectively collected in 2010-2011, through a multicenter, observational French cohort.
Results: The median overall survival after admittance in palliative care units was 15 days. Specific anticancer treatments were systematically stopped in the first 24 h in palliative care units, but for 4.5% of patients. Regarding NACTs, patients were heavily treated with strong opioids (74%), corticosteroids (51%), and antidepressants (21.8%) until death. Antiulcer agents (63.4%), antibiotics (25.7%), thrombosis prevention (21.8%), antidiabetics (7.6%), and transfusions (4%) were often also continuously prescribed. In multivariate analysis, ECOG PS 4 was an independent predictor of continuous prescription of morphine and an independent predictor of discontinuation of corticosteroids, proton-pump inhibitors, antidiabetics, and preventive anticoagulant therapy. Infection symptoms independently predicted continuous prescription of paracetamol. Paralysis and cancer palpable mass independently predicted corticosteroid withdrawal. Brain metastases independently predicted antiulcer withdrawal. Hemorrhage independently predicted preventive anticoagulant withdrawal. Availability to a venous access independently predicted paracetamol and antiulcer continuous prescriptions. Co-prescriptions independently predicted continuous prescriptions (antibiotics with antiulcer, antifungals with antibiotics) or withdrawal (preventive anticoagulant with antiplatelets and antifungals).
Conclusions: NACT prescription remained commonplace in terminally ill palliative cancer patients, although their benefit is questionable.
Aim: To explore medication safety issues faced by general and palliative care community nurses working in rural and remote palliative care domiciliary settings.
Method: An online survey for nurses working in rural communities was conducted across the South East region of rural Victoria, Australia. Nurses from 18 community based health care organisations across the region were invited to participate in an anonymous survey addressing medication safety issues in the palliative care settings. Qualitative data obtained from the open-ended survey questions were analysed inductively.
Results: A total of 29 nurses completed the survey (response rate 28% from potential respondents). Most of the nurses were working in a rural practice providing a mixed model of community palliative care and community nursing. Medication safety issues raised by the nurses included; errors associated with dose administration aids, frequency of medications reviews undertaken by clinical pharmacists of clients’ medications, high occurrence of medications error reporting, lack of awareness of medications initiated by nurses and cytotoxic medications handling.
Conclusion: Targeted interventions addressing the identified issues raised by community general and palliative care nurses have the potential to improve medication safety in the domiciliary palliative care setting.
In the United States, the adult population that will need hospice and palliative care is expected to double in the next 40 years. In primary care, providers are often faced with tough decisions on how to manage patients' medications at the end of life. This article describes how to deprescribe in the last year of life.
Background: The high burden of disease-oriented drugs among older adults with limited life expectancy raises important questions about the potential futility of care.
Aim: To describe the use of drugs of questionable clinical benefit during the last 3 months of life of older adults who died from life-limiting conditions.
Design: Longitudinal, retrospective cohort study of decedents. Death certificate data were linked to administrative and healthcare registries with national coverage in Sweden.
Setting: Older adults (=75 years) who died from conditions potentially amenable to palliative care between 1 January and 31 December 2015 in Sweden. We identified drugs of questionable clinical benefit from a set of consensus-based criteria.
Results: A total of 58,415 decedents were included (mean age, 87.0 years). During their last 3 months of life, they received on average 8.9 different drugs. Overall, 32.0% of older adults continued and 14.0% initiated at least one drug of questionable clinical benefit (e.g. statins, calcium supplements, vitamin D, bisphosphonates, antidementia drugs). These proportions were highest among younger individuals (i.e. aged 75–84 years), among people who died from organ failure and among those with a large number of coexisting chronic conditions. Excluding people who died from acute and potentially unpredictable fatal events had little influence on the results.
Conclusion: A substantial share of older persons with life-limiting diseases receive drugs of questionable clinical benefit during their last months of life. Adequate training, guidance and resources are needed to rationalize and deprescribe drug treatments for older adults near the end of life.
There is a growing number of people who need access to high-quality end of life care in the home setting. This requires timely assessments of needs, ensuring good symptom management and recognising the roles undertaken by carers. For some patients, a range of medications may need to be put in place to relieve end-of-life symptoms, using 'anticipatory prescribing'. District nurses must ensure that they acknowledge the patient's voiced preferences and be mindful of the safety issues that arise with the supply of controlled drugs in the home. This article highlights the challenges faced by district nurses providing or dealing with anticipatory prescribing during end-of-life care.
BACKGROUND: Drug use beyond the licence (off-label use, off-label drug use) is a common practice in palliative care and respective recommendations can often be identified in the literature. It is both risky and offers opportunities at the same time and, therefore, requires special attention in clinical practice.
AIM: To determine the prevalence of off-label drug use in palliative care and to identify, evaluate and critically appraise studies describing the clinical practice, healthcare professionals' awareness, knowledge and attitudes towards off-label-use and management strategies.
DESIGN: Systematic literature review following the guidance of the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination.
DATA SOURCES: Medline, Embase, Web of Science and Current Contents Connect were searched in July 2018 as well as hand searches. The reference lists of pertinent studies were screened for further relevant publications, and citation tracking was performed.
RESULTS: Eight studies met the inclusion criteria. Due to the variety in study designs and settings, no meta-analysis or meaningful statistical analysis was possible and a narrative synthesis of the data was performed. Frequency of off-label drug use ranged from 14.5% to 35%. Up to 97% of palliative care units did not have any policy or guidance on handling off-label drug use. About 20% of prescribers never obtain consent in the context of off-label use.
CONCLUSION: Off-label use is common in palliative care with up to one-third of prescriptions affected. Challenges are often related to obtaining informed consent. Little is known about the decision-making process. More information and guidance for the prescribers are needed to enable safe handling of drugs outside their licence in palliative care.
Pain is one of the most feared symptoms experienced by patients at the end of life and one of the most difficult to manage. Families identify patient comfort as a priority in hospice, yet many have concerns regarding pain management and medication side effects. Timely, open, and ongoing communication with hospice teams can assuage concerns to improve care and outcomes relevant to pain medication use in hospice. A pilot project was undertaken to improve the patient and family/caregiver experience in end-of-life care relevant to communication regarding pain medication side effects and management within an inpatient hospice. A 5% improvement in the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Services (CAHPS) Hospice quality indicator 18 (Understanding Side Effects) was sought. An evidence-based, interprofessional educational protocol and tool were designed and implemented to guide pertinent conversations. A 6.6% increase in favorable responses to the CAHPS Hospice target indicator occurred over the course of the pilot. Feedback from staff revealed positive responses to the tool with recommended expansion of use across hospice settings. Educational programming holds promise to support communication with hospice patients and families regarding pain medication side effects and management to improve experiential care quality as reflected in CAHPS Hospice surveys.
Objective To investigate symptom-relief and comorbid drug uses at the end of life for older people with different dying trajectories (cancer, organ failure, frailty and sudden death) in Taiwan.
Methods In a retrospective observational study of older people aged 65 years and older who died in hospitals between 2008 and 2012, we used NHIRD to measure numbers, incremental changes and determinants of symptom-relief and comorbid drug use in the last month of outpatient care and last hospitalisation before death.
Results We included 59 407 older adults (cancer 37%, organ failure 26%, frailty 35% and sudden death 2%) who died in hospitals for this study. In the last hospitalisation before death, individuals who died of cancer received greatest number of symptom-relief drugs (mean: 4.65, [SD 2.77]) and increased most the average change in the number of symptom-relief drug use (+1.60; SD 3.36). However, individuals who died of organ failure received the highest number of comorbid drugs (mean 2.88, [SD 1.95]) and also increased most the average change in the number of comorbid drug use (+0.17; SD 2.28) at last hospitalisation. Different dying trajectories were key determinants of receiving symptom-relief and comorbid drugs in our study.
Conclusions Our study suggests that the drug use of older adults at the end of life in the cancer group is different from that in the organ failure and frailty groups. Policymakers and health professionals should consider the different strategies to optimise drug use for older people with different dying trajectories near their end of life.
Prolonged seizures and status epilepticus (SE) are relevant problems in palliative care. Timely recognition and effective early treatment with first- and second-line antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) may prevent unnecessary hospitalizations. Seizures should be recognized and addressed like any other symptom that causes discomfort or reduces quality of life. Use of alternative AED administration routes (buccal, intranasal, or subcutaneous) may offer possibilities for effective and individualized AED therapy, even during the last days of life. In hospice or home care, however, also intravenous treatment is possible via vascular access devices for long-term use. Aggressive unlimited intensive care unit (ICU) treatment of refractory SE in palliative patients is mostly not indicated. At worst, intensive care can be futile and possibly harmful: death in the ICU is often preceded by long and aggressive treatments. Metastatic cancer, old age, high severity of acute illness, overall frailty, poor functional status before hospital admission, and the presence of severe comorbidities all increase the probability of poor outcome of intensive care. When several of these factors are present, consideration of withholding intensive care may be in the patient's best interests. Anticipated outcomes influence patients' preferences. A majority of patients with a limited life expectancy because of an incurable disease would not want aggressive treatment, if the anticipated outcome was survival but with severe functional impairment. Doctors' perceptions about their patients' wishes are often incorrect, and therefore, advance care planning including seizure management should be done early in the course of the disease. This article is part of the Special Issue "Proceedings of the 7th London-Innsbruck Colloquium on Status Epilepticus and Acute Seizures".
PURPOSE: Several new drug therapies have been approved in CRPC in the past decade. However, little is known about their potential overuse at the end of life. Cancer therapy use at the end of life has been considered an indicator of overtreatment. The study objective was to describe CRPC drug use in the last month of life of CRPC patients in Quebec.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: Using administrative databases from the province of Quebec in Canada, we identified patients who received medical or surgical castration treatment, received one or more CRPC drugs (chemotherapy, abiraterone, or bone-targeted therapy), and died between 2001 and 2013. CRPC drug use in the last month of life was the primary outcome.
RESULTS: The cohort consisted of 1,148 patients with CRPC. A total of 316 men (27.5%) received a CRPC drug in the last month of life. For those who received chemotherapy, abiraterone, and bone-targeted therapy, 10.2%, 27.8%, and 31.8% received them in the last month of life, respectively. In multivariable analyses, age older than 75 years (odds ratio [OR], 0.75; 95% CI, 0.57 to 0.99), and prostate cancer diagnosis received less than 24 months earlier (OR, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.26 to 0.72) were associated with less CRPC drug use. Relative to dying between 2005 and 2011, dying between 2012 and 2013 (OR 1.60; 95% CI, 1.18 to 2.18) was associated with greater CRPC drug use.
CONCLUSION: More than one quarter of patients received CRPC drug therapies in the last month of life. Persistent chemotherapy, abiraterone, bone-targeted therapies, and medical castration drugs in the last month of life may be an indicator of inappropriate and expensive end-of-life care.
A 14-year-old girl with a history of complex congenital heart disease in end-stage heart failure and with cyclic vomiting was admitted to our hospice program in 2012. Before hospice enrollment, she had required intermittent infusions of dexmedetomidine to abort cyclic vomiting episodes after cardiac catheterization procedures. Following a hospital admission in November 2013, she was discharged home in the care of our hospice on a continuous dexmedetomidine infusion. She remained on this infusion at varying doses (range of 0.1-0.38 mcg/kg/hour) for nearly three years, until her death in September 2016. This report describes the palliative use of dexmedetomidine in this patient and difficulties related to the use of this medication during the course of her care.
Background: In recent years, there has been a rising demand for home hospice care in Singapore and globally. Studies have shown that polypharmacy and the use of potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) remain prevalent in palliative care patients. This is commonly associated with increased adverse drug reactions and hospitalization. However, research on medication use in hospice care and its appropriateness is lacking in Asian settings.
Objective: (1) To describe the medication use among cancer and non-cancer patients in home hospice care settings in Singapore at two time points, on the day of referral and at death. (2) To describe the discontinuation patterns of medications and assess their appropriateness.
Design: This retrospective study analyzed 6158 cancer and 780 non-cancer cases referred to HCA Hospice Care (HCA), Singapore. Sociodemographic, clinical, and medication data were extracted from electronic medical records. The OncPal Deprescribing Guideline (OncPal) was utilized to assess the appropriateness of discontinuation of medications.
Results: Non-cancer patients had a higher mean number of medications at admission and death, with 7.84 and 7.07 medications, respectively (p < 0.05), compared with cancer patients, with 5.65 and 5.69 medications, respectively (p = 0.372). The top medications for all patients were laxatives, opioids, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These were mainly used for symptom control. PPI was the main PIM identified by OncPal.
Conclusion: Despite being close to end of life and on hospice care, majority of patients still experienced significant medication burden. Continuous assessment of PIMs for their appropriateness based on clinical indications is imperative to reduce polypharmacy.
Les soins palliatifs et l’accompagnement des mourants s’inscrivent dans le mouvement plus large d’individualisation de la mort. Centrée sur la notion d’autonomie, la mort idéale se veut aujourd’hui discrète, inconsciente et hygiénique. Impensable sans une importante expertise médicale qui permet de soulager la douleur physique, de contrôler chimiquement l’angoisse et la peur, de neutraliser les odeurs et les traces de l’agonie, cet idéal suppose une tension constante entre contrôle et dépendance. Emblématique de ce que le sociologue Nikolas Rose nomme la biocitoyenneté, soit une forme de citoyenneté centrée sur une politisation de la santé individuelle et sur l’émergence de revendications identitaires reliées à des questions d’ordre biomédical, le mouvement en faveur des soins palliatifs s’inscrit en fait dans le processus global de pharmaceuticalisation caractérisant les sociétés occidentales contemporaines. Partant d’un questionnement sociologique sur l’usage croissant de la sédation profonde dans la gestion biomédicale de la fin de vie, cet article propose d’analyser le phénomène du contrôle médicamenteux de la souffrance sous l’angle de la pharmaceuticalisation. Au-delà de la thèse du déni de la mort et du refus de la douleur, il s’agira plutôt de comprendre que la sédation profonde est indissociable d’une volonté de contrôle et d’optimisation de soi propre à la biocitoyenneté. Loin d’un simple refus de la douleur, la norme de la sédation profonde indique plutôt que la douleur « improductive », c’est-à-dire celle qui ne s’inscrit pas dans une logique thérapeutique, méliorative ou expérimentale, tant à devenir socialement intolérable. La sédation profonde apparaît ainsi à la fois comme la limite et l’expression ultime de la biocitoyenneté.
Background: Maintenance of medications that are unconducive to the quality of life is difficult to justify in dying terminally-ill cancer patients.
Objective: We aimed at determining the prevalence of administering antidiabetic, antihypertensive, and lipid-lowering medications to elderly patients dying with cancer.
Methods: We reviewed the medical records of patients above 60 years of age with advanced cancer who died in a palliative care unit. The collected data included the use of antidiabetic, antihypertensive, and lipid-lowering medications during the last week of life.
Results: Of 103 patients, 51.5% were female and the median age was 69 years. The most common cancers included gastrointestinal (40.8%), gynecological (13.6%), and head and neck (12.6%). All patients had advanced cancer and 59.2% had hypertension, 52.4% had diabetes mellitus, and 19.4% had dyslipidemia. During their last week of life, 38.8% received antidiabetic, 23.3% received antihypertensive, and 3.9% received lipid-lowering agents. The data showed that 68.5% of people with diabetes received antidiabetic medications, 37.7% of hypertensive patients received antihypertensive medications, and 20% of dyslipidemics received lipid-lowering agents. Hypoglycemia was reported in 7.5% of patients receiving antidiabetic drugs, while hypotension was reported in 66.7% of patients receiving antihypertensive agents.
Conclusion: Many elderly patients dying with advanced cancer in a palliative care unit were maintained on medications for chronic conditions until the very late stages of their lives. For such imminently dying patients, benefits of such medications are unlikely and burdens are possible. Further research is needed to explore physicians' justifications, if any, for maintaining such patients on apparently futile medications.
BACKGROUND: Respiratory distress protocols (RDPs) are protocolized prescriptions comprised of 3 medications (a benzodiazepine, an opioid, and an anticholinergic) administered simultaneously as an emergency treatment for respiratory distress in palliative care patients in the province of Quebec, Canada. However, data on appropriate use that justifies the combination of all 3 components is scarce and based on individual pharmacodynamic properties along with expert consensus.
OBJECTIVES: Our study aimed to evaluate the conformity and the effectiveness of RDPs prescribed and administered to hospitalized adult patients.
METHODS: This was a prospective and descriptive study conducted in a single center. Prescription and administration conformity were assessed based on predefined appropriateness criteria.
RESULTS: A total of 467 adult patients were prescribed a RDP, 175 administrations were documented, and 78 patients received at least 1 RDP. Prescription conformity was assessed on 1473 separate occasions over the trial period. Overall prescription conformity was found to be 37% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 33.6-40.4), and administration conformity was 37.7% (95% CI: 26.2-50.7). Low administration conformity was primarily explained by incorrect indications for RDP use. Seemingly important determinants of higher conformity were prescriber's speciality in palliative care, use of preprinted orders, pharmacist involvement, and hospitalization in the palliative care unit.
CONCLUSION: This study highlights important gaps in the use of RDPs in our institution. Health-care provider training appears necessary in order to ensure adequate conformity and allow for further evaluation of RDP effectiveness.
OBJECTIVE: Older people approaching the end of life are at high risk for adverse drug reactions. Approaching end of life should change the therapeutic aims, triggering a reduction in the number of drugs. The main aim of this study was to describe the preventive and symptomatic drug treatments prescribed to patients discharged from internal medicine and geriatric wards, with limited life expectancy. The secondary aim was to describe the potentially severe DDIs.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: We analyzed Registry of Polytherapies Societa Italiana di Medicina Interna (REPOSI), a network of internal medicine and geriatric wards, to describe the drug therapy of patients discharged with limited life expectancy.
RESULTS: The study sample comprised 55 patients discharged with limited life expectancy. Patients with at least one preventive medication that could be considered for de-prescription at end-of-life were significantly fewer from admission to discharge (30; 54.5% and 21; 38.2%, p = 0.02). ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers, lipid-lowering drugs and clonidine were the most frequent potentially avoidable medications prescribed at discharge, followed by xanthine oxidase inhibitors and drugs to prevent fractures. Thirty-seven (67.3%) patients were also exposed to at least one potentially severe drug-drug interaction at discharge.
CONCLUSION: Hospital discharge is associated with small reductions in the use of commonly prescribed preventive medications in patients discharged with limited life expectancy. Cardiovascular drugs are the most frequent potentially avoidable preventive medications. A consensus framework, or shared criteria for potentially inappropriate medication in elderly patients with limited life expectancy could be useful to further improve drug prescription.