Cancer trajectories at the end of life: Is there an effect of age and gender?

Massimo Costantini, Monica Beccaro, Irene J. Higginson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Few empirical data show the pattern of functional decline at the end of life for cancer patients, especially among older patients. Methods: In a mortality follow-back survey (the Italian Survey of the Dying of Cancer - ISDOC) a random sample of 1,271 lay caregivers were interviewed, at a mean of 234 days after bereavement. The main outcome was number of days before death when the patient experienced a permanent functional decline. Results: 1,249 (98%) caregivers answered the question about patient's function. The probability to be free from a functional disability was high (94%) 52 weeks before death, but was lower for older age groups (15% for those aged 85 or more) and women (8%). It remained stable until 18 weeks before death, then fell to 63% at 12 weeks and 49% at 6 weeks before death (among those aged 85 or more the figures were 50% and 41%). The pattern was consistent across sub-groups, except for patients affected by Central Nervous System tumors who experienced a longer, slower functional decline. Conclusion: This study provides empirical support for the declining trajectory in cancer, and suggests that the decline commences at around 12 weeks in all age groups, even among patients over 85 years.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127
JournalBMC Cancer
Publication statusPublished - May 2 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research
  • Genetics

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