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Trends in the aggressiveness of end-of-life cancer care in the universal healthcare system of Ontario, Canada


Purpose — To describe trends in the aggressiveness of end-of-life (EOL) cancer care in a universal healthcare system in Ontario, Canada, between 1993 and 2004, and to compare with findings reported in the United States.

Methods — A population-based, retrospective, cohort study that used administrative data linked to registry data. Aggressiveness of EOL care was defined as the occurrence of at least one of the following indicators: last dose of chemotherapy received within 14 days of death; more than one emergency department (ED) visit within 30 days of death; more than one hospitalization within 30 days of death; or at least one intensive care unit (ICU) admission within 30 days of death.

Results — Among 227,161 patients, 22.4% experienced at least one incident of potentially aggressive EOL cancer care. Multivariable analyses showed that with each successive year, patients were significantly more likely to encounter some aggressive intervention (odds ratio, 1.01; 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.02). Multiple emergency department (ED) visits, ICU admissions, and chemotherapy use increased significantly over time, whereas multiple hospital admissions declined (P < .05). Patients were more likely to receive aggressive EOL care if they were men, were younger, lived in rural regions, had a higher level of comorbidity, or had breast, lung, or hematologic malignancies. Chemotherapy and ICU utilization were lower in Ontario than in the United States.

Conclusion — Aggressiveness of cancer care near the EOL is increasing over time in Ontario, Canada, although overall rates were lower than in the United States. Health system characteristics and patient or physician cultural factors may play a role in the observed differences.



Ho TH, Barbera L, Saskin R, Lu H, Neville BA, Earle CC. J Clin Oncol. 2011; 29(12):1587-91. Epub 2011 Mar 14.

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