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Why do patients with cancer visit the emergency department near the end of life?

Barbera L, Taylor C, Dudgeon D. CMAJ. 2010; 182(6):563-8. Epub 2010 Mar 15.


Background — For patients dying of cancer, a visit to the emergency department can be disruptive, distressing and exhausting. Such visits made near the end of life are considered an indicator of poor-quality cancer care. The authors describe the most common reasons for visits made to the emergency department during the final six months of life and the final two weeks of life by patients dying of cancer.

Methods — We performed a descriptive, retrospective cohort study using linked administrative sources of health care data. 

Results — Between 2002 and 2005 in Ontario, 91,561patients died of cancer. Of these, 76,759 patients made 194,017 visits to the emergency department during the final six months of life. Further, 31,076 patients made 36,600visits to the emergency department during the final two weeks of life. In both periods, the most common reasons were abdominal pain, lung cancer, dyspnea, pneumonia, malaise and fatigue, and pleural effusion.

Conclusions — Many visits made to the emergency department by patients with cancer near the end of life may be avoidable. An understanding of the reasons for such visits could be useful in the development of dedicated interventions for preventing or avoiding their occurrence.

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Keywords: Cancer Emergency department visits

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