The COVID-19 (C-19) pandemic has seen much research scrutinising the impact of C-19 on cancer patients, focusing on understanding the impact of a cancer diagnosis and anti-cancer treatments on mortality. Yet there is paucity of work regarding the end-of-life care (EOLC) for cancer patients dying with C-19.
Retrospective record review of all non-ventilated patients who died in a tertiary referral UK cancer centre with known or suspected C-19 across the 2 peak pandemic waves from 25/03/20 – 01/05/20 and 05/12/20 – 01/03/21. Demographics and risk factors for severe C-19 were described. EOLC assessment considered palliative care (PC) needs, medications prescribed and advance care plans including Treatment Escalation Plans (TEP) and Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) orders.
34 patients were included. Most patients were female (18) and White British (19), mean age was 69 (45-82). 8 patients had recognised cardiovascular risk factors; 11 patients had no comorbidities additional to cancer. 26 patient had metastatic disease, 30 were receiving palliative treatment. Most patients were referred to PC for symptom control (20), 8 were referred for EOLC. All patients had DNAR orders and TEPs. The median number of PC reviews was 5 (range 1-24). Integrated Palliative Outcome Scale (IPOS) (a holistic assessment tool used in clinical care) scores on first assessment (n=24) recorded the main symptoms as weakness, lacking peace and anxiety. Family anxiety was the highest scoring aspect. Medical management at the end-of-life was, however, generally uncomplicated; total opioid (oral morphine equivalent) and benzodiazepine doses administered in last 24 hours before death were relatively low, median dose (range) 30mg (5-180 mg) and 10mg (0-30mg) respectively.
With prompt recognition and access to standard EOLC, the symptom management of cancer patients dying from C-19 is relatively uncomplicated. As a transmissible disease, associated with social anxiety and restrictions, death from C-19 is, however, undeniably complicated. Timely acknowledgment of the vulnerability of patients with advanced cancer and C-19 is essential to facilitate early communication about patients’ priorities and wishes, and enhance family support.
Clinical trial identification
Legal entity responsible for the study
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
Has not received any funding.
All authors have declared no conflicts of interest.