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Cancer Patients in Hospice Face Less Aggressive Treatment

More health care strategies and costs seen for non-hospice patients at end of life

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer patients who choose hospice care are less likely to receive aggressive end-of-life treatment or to die in hospitals and nursing homes, according to research published in the Nov. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers studied 18,165 elderly Medicare patients who had advanced cancer and received hospice care, and compared them with the same number of patients who did not receive hospice care.

The researchers found that non-hospice patients used significantly more health care resources, such as hospitalization, intensive care, and invasive procedures, largely for acute conditions not directly related to their cancer. Seventy-four percent of non-hospice patients died in hospitals or nursing homes, compared with 14 percent of hospice patients. And over the last year of life, the health care costs for non-hospice patients averaged $71,517 compared to $62,819 for hospice patients.

"Our study shows very clearly that hospice matters. Hospice and non-hospice patients had very similar patterns of health care utilization, right up until the week of hospice enrollment -- then the care started to look very different," study leader Ziad Obermeyer, M.D., from the department of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a hospital news release. "Patients who didn't enroll in hospice ended up with far more aggressive care in their last year of life -- most of it related to acute complications like infections and organ failure, and not directly related to their cancer diagnosis."

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