Background — Studies have reported overly aggressive end-of-life care (EOLC) in many cancers. We investigate trends in, and factors associated with, aggressive EOLC among patients who died of gastrointestinal (GI) cancers in Ontario, Canada.
Methods — All patients with primary cause of death from esophageal, gastric, colon, and anorectal cancer from January 2003 to December 2013 were identified through the Ontario Cancer Registry, and information was collected from linked databases. Outcomes representing aggressive EOLC were assessed: administration of chemotherapy, any emergency department (ED) visits, hospital admissions, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions (all within 30 days of death), death in hospital and in ICU, and a composite outcome representing any aggressive EOLC. Temporal trends were analyzed using the Cochran-Armitage test.
Results — There were 34 630 patients in the cohort: 43% colon, 26% anorectal, 19% gastric, and 12% esophageal cancers. Aggressive EOLC was delivered to 65%, with a significantly decreasing trend from 64.8% in 2003 to 62.5% in 2013 (P = .001). Utilization of specific elements of aggressive EOLC included 8% chemotherapy, 46% ED visits, 49% hospital admissions, 6% ICU admissions, 45% death in hospital, and 5% death in ICU. Trends over the study period showed that ED visits (from 43% to 46.9%; P = .0001) and death in ICU (from 3.7% to 4.9%; P = .04) significantly increased; hospital admissions (from 48.9% to 47.8%; P = .02) and death in hospital (from 46.6% to 38.9%; P < .0001) significantly decreased.
Conclusions — Two-thirds of patients with GI cancer had aggressive EOLC in the last 30 days of life.