Predictors of Late Palliative Care Referral in Children With Cancer


CONTEXT: Early integration of palliative care (PC) in the management of children with high-risk cancer is widely endorsed by patients, families, clinicians, and national organizations. However, optimal timing for PC consultation is not standardized, and variables that influence timing of PC integration for children with cancer remain unknown. OBJECTIVES: To investigate associations between demographic, disease, treatment, and end-of-life attributes and timing of PC consultation for children with high-risk cancer enrolled on a PC service. METHODS: A comprehensive standardized tool was used to abstract data from the medical records of 321 patients treated at a large academic pediatric cancer center, who died between 2011 and 2015. RESULTS: Gender, race, ethnicity, enrollment on a Phase I protocol, number of high-acuity hospitalizations, and receipt of cardiopulmonary resuscitation were not associated with timing of PC involvement. Patients with hematologic malignancy, those who received cancer-directed therapy during the last month of life, and those with advance directives documented one week or less before death had higher odds of late PC referral (malignancy: odds ratio [OR] 3.24, P = 0.001; therapy: OR 4.65, P < 0.001; directive: OR 4.81, P < 0.0001). Patients who received hospice services had lower odds of late PC referral <30 days before death (OR 0.31, P < 0.001). CONCLUSION: Hematologic malignancy, cancer-directed therapy at the end of life, and delayed documentation of advance directives are associated with late PC involvement in children who died of cancer. Identification of these variables affords opportunities to study targeted interventions to enhance access to earlier PC resources and services for children with high-risk cancer and their families.

Publication Title

Journal of pain and symptom management