Identifying potential need for cancer palliation in Nova Scotia


Identifying potential need for cancer palliation in Nova Scotia


Johnston GM; Gibbons L; Burge FI; Dewar RA; Cummings I; Levy IG


Canadian Medical Association Journal




Female; Male; Adult; Aged; Survival Analysis; Odds Ratio; 80 and over; Non-U.S. Gov't; retrospective studies; Human; Support; Middle Age; Nova Scotia/epidemiology; Referral and Consultation/statistics & numerical data; Comprehensive Health Care/utilization; Health Services Needs and Demand/statistics & numerical data; Neoplasms/mortality/radiotherapy; Palliative Care/utilization


OBJECTIVE: To assess the degree to which Nova Scotia cancer patients who may need palliative care are being referred to the comprehensive Halifax-based Palliative Care Program (PCP). METHODS: The authors conducted a retrospective, population-based study using administrative health data for all adults in Nova Scotia who died of cancer from 1988 to 1994. Proportions and odds ratios (ORs) were used to determine where there were differences in age, sex, place of residence, cancer cause of death, year of death and use of palliative radiotherapy between those who were referred to the PCP at the Halifax Infirmary and those who were not, and between those who were referred late (within 14 days of death) and those who were referred earlier. RESULTS: Of the 14,494 adults who died of cancer during the study period, 2057 (14.2%) were registered in the PCP. Within Halifax County, 1582 (36.4%) of the 4340 patients with terminal cancer were seen in the PCP. Predictors of PCP registration were residence in Halifax County (OR 19.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 15.4-23.9), younger age compared with those 85 years of age or older (for those 20-54 years of age, OR 4.9, 95% CI 3.2-7.6; 55-64 years, OR 3.4, 95% CI 2.2-5.1; 65-74 years, OR 3.1, 95% CI 2.1-4.5; 75-84 years, OR 2.1, 95% CI 1.4-3.1), and having received palliative radiation (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.5-2.2). PCP referral was associated directly with head and neck cancer (OR 5.4, 95% CI 3.0-9.7) and inversely with hematopoietic (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.4-0.9), lymph node (OR 0.3, 95% CI 0.1-0.4) and lung (OR 0.6, 95% CI 0.4-0.9) cancer. Predictors of late referral (being referred to the PCP within 14 days of death) were age 65-84 years (OR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1-1.8) and 85 years and over (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.1-3.0), no palliative radiation (OR 2.0, 95% CI 1.4-3.1) and cancer cause of death. People dying within 6 months of diagnosis were somewhat less likely to have been referred to the PCP (OR 0.8, 95% CI 0.6-0.9), but those who were referred were more likely to have been referred late (OR 2.6, 95% CI 2.0-3.5). INTERPRETATION: Referral to the PCP and earlier rather than late referral were more likely for younger people with terminal cancer, those who received palliative radiation and those living closer to the PCP. Referral rates also varied by cancer cause of death and the time between diagnosis and death.


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Journal Article


Johnston GM; Gibbons L; Burge FI; Dewar RA; Cummings I; Levy IG, “Identifying potential need for cancer palliation in Nova Scotia,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed November 29, 2023,