OBJECTIVES: More than half of cancer patients require palliative care; however, inequality in access and late referral in the illness trajectory are major issues. This study assessed the cumulative incidence of first hospital-based palliative care (HPC) referral, as well as the influence of patient-, tumor-, and care-related factors.
STUDY DESIGN: This is a retrospective population-based study.
METHODS: The study included patients from the 2014 population-based cancer registry of Gironde, France. International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, coding for palliative care identified HPC referrals from 2014 to 2018. The study included 8424 patients. Analyses considered the competing risk of death and were stratified by initial cancer prognosis (favorable vs unfavorable [if metastatic or progressive cancer]).
RESULTS: The 4-year incidence of HPC was 16.7% (95% confidence interval, 16.6-16.8). Lung cancer led to more referrals, whereas breast, colorectal, and prostatic locations were associated to less frequent HPC compared with other solid tumors. Favorable prognosis central nervous system tumors and unfavorable prognosis hematological malignancies also showed less HPC. The incidence of HPC was higher in tertiary centers, particularly for older patients. In the favorable prognosis subgroup, older and non-deprived patients received more HPC. In the unfavorable prognosis subgroup, the incidence of HPC was lower in patients who lived in rural areas than those who lived in urban areas.
CONCLUSIONS: One-sixth of cancer patients require HPC. Some factors influencing referral depend on the initial cancer prognosis. Our findings support actions to improve accessibility, especially for deprived patients, people living in rural areas, those with hematological malignancies, and those treated outside tertiary centers. In addition, consideration of age as factor of HPC may allow for improved design of the referral system.