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Trajectory of performance status and symptom scores for patients with cancer during the last six months of life


Purpose — Ontario's cancer system is unique because it has implemented two standardized assessment tools population-wide to improve care: the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) measures severity of nine symptoms (scale 0 to 10; 10 indicates the worst) and the Palliative Performance Scale (PPS) measures performance status (scale 0 to 100; 0 indicates death). This article describes the trajectory of ESAS and PPS scores 6 months before death.

Patients and Methods — Observational cohort study of cancer decedents between 2007 and 2009. Decedents required ≥1 ESAS or PPS assessment in the 6 months before death for inclusion. Outcomes were the decedents' average ESAS and PPS scores per week before death.

Results — Ten thousand seven hundred fifty-two (ESAS) and 7,882 (PPS) decedents were included. The mean age was 65 years, half were female, and approximately 75% of assessments occurred in cancer clinics. Average PPS score declined slowly over the 6 months before death, starting at approximately 70 and ending at 40, declining more rapidly in the last month. For ESAS symptoms, average pain, nausea, anxiety, and depression scores remained relatively stable over the 6 months. Conversely, shortness of breath, drowsiness, well-being, lack of appetite, and tiredness increased in severity over time, particularly in the month before death. More than one-third of the cohort reported moderate to severe scores (i.e., 4 to 10) for most symptoms in the last month of life.

Conclusion — In this large outpatient cancer population, trajectories of mean ESAS scores followed two patterns: increasing versus generally flat. The latter was perhaps due to available treatment (e.g., prescriptions) for those symptoms. Future research should prioritize addressing symptoms that worsen over time.



Seow H, Barbera L, Sutradhar R, Howell D, Dudgeon D, Atzema C, Liu Y, Husain A, Sussman J, Earle C.J Clin Oncol. 2011; 29(9):1151-8. Epub 2011 Feb 7.

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