Conference Coverage

Palliative care may reduce suicide among lung cancer patients



Veterans with advanced-stage lung cancer who received palliative care were less likely to commit suicide, according to new research that will be presented at an international conference of the American Thoracic Society.

“Suicide is a significant national public health problem, especially among lung cancer patients and among veterans,” said lead author, Donald R. Sullivan, MD, of the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and a member of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, in a statement.

Lung cancer cells are shown. xrender/
Dr. Sullivan, who also is a core investigator at the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care at Portland Veterans Affairs, and his colleagues analyzed data on patients in the VA Healthcare System who were diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer (IIIB & IV) from January 2007 to December 2013.

The investigators found that veterans who experienced at least one “palliative care encounter” after learning they had lung cancer were 82% less likely to die by suicide (odds ratio, 0.18; 95% confidence interval, 0.07-0.46; P less than .001), when compared with veterans who were diagnosed with lung cancer but did not receive palliative care.

The suicide rate for the advanced-stage lung cancer patients was 200/100,000 patient-years, which was more than five times higher than the suicide rate – adjusted for age, sex, and year – for all veterans using VA health care (37.5/100,000), according to the study abstract.

Of the 20,900 lung cancer patients analyzed, 30 committed suicide. Only six (20%) of the patients who died by suicide had received palliative care. Overall, most patients (18,192 or 87%) in the registry died of lung cancer. Other cancers, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were some of the other common causes of death for the lung cancer patients, according to the abstract.

While several medical societies recommend palliative care for all patients with advanced-stage lung cancer, there is a gap between those recommendations and practice, noted Dr. Sullivan. “There are many barriers to palliative care, and unfortunately, some are related to clinician referrals. Not all doctors are aware of the benefits of palliative care,” he said in the statement.

Dr. Sullivan added that palliative care should be offered to all patients shortly after receiving a diagnosis of advanced-stage lung cancer.

More details on this study will be presented at the conference on Monday, May 21, at 2:30 p.m. in Room 14 A-B (Mezzanine Level) of the San Diego Convention Center.

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