Dying with Lung Cancer or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Insights from SUPPORT

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, v. 48, no. 5, suppl., May 2000, p. S146-S153

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2000

by Michael T. Claessens, Joanne Lynn, Zhenshao Zhong, Norman A. Desbiens, Russell S. Phillips, Albert W. Wu, Frank E. Harrell, Alfred F. Connors, Jr.

CONTEXT: Many are calling for patients with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to receive hospice care, but the traditional hospice model may be insufficient. OBJECTIVE: To compare the course of illness and patterns of care for patients with non-small cell lung cancer and severe COPD. DESIGN: Prospective cohort study of seriously ill, hospitalized adults. SETTING: Five teaching hospitals in the United States. PATIENTS: Patients with Stage III or IV non-small cell lung cancer (n = 939) or acute exacerbation of severe COPD (n = 1008). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Patients' preferences for pattern of care and for ventilator use; symptoms; life-sustaining interventions; and survival prognoses. RESULTS: Sixty percent in each group wanted comfort-focused care; 81% with lung cancer and 78% with COPD were extremely unwilling to have mechanical ventilation indefinitely. Severe dyspnea occurred in 32% of patients with lung cancer and 56% of patients with COPD and severe pain in 28 % of patients with lung cancer and 21% of patients with COPD. Patients with COPD who died during index hospitalization were more likely than patients with lung cancer to receive mechanical ventilation (70.4% vs 19.8%), tube feeding (38.7% vs 18.5%), and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (25.2% vs 7.8%). Mechanical ventilation had greater short term effectiveness in patients with COPD, based on survival to hospital discharge (76% vs 38%). Patients with COPD maintained higher median 2-month and 6-month survival prognoses, even days before death. CONCLUSIONS: Hospitalized patients with lung cancer or COPD preferred comfort-focused care, yet dyspnea and pain were problematic in both groups. Patients with COPD were more often treated with life-sustaining interventions, and short-term effectiveness was comparatively better than in patients with lung cancer. In caring for patients with severe COPD, consideration should be given to implementing palliative treatments more aggressively, even while remaining open to provision of life-sustaining interventions.

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