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Palliative radiotherapy near the end of life



A significant proportion of patients with advanced cancer undergo palliative radiotherapy (RT) within their last 30 days of life. This study characterizes palliative RT at our institution and aims to identify patients who may experience limited benefit from RT due to imminent mortality.


Five hundred and-eighteen patients treated with external beam RT to a site of metastatic disease between 2012 and 2016 were included. Mann-Whitney U and chi-squared tests were used to identify factors associated with RT within 30 days of death (D30RT).


Median age at RT was 63 years (IQR 54-71). Median time from RT to death was 74 days (IQR 33-174). One hundred and twenty-five patients (24%) died within 30 days of RT. D30RT was associated with older age at RT (64 vs. 62 years, p = 0.04), shorter interval since diagnosis (14 vs. 31 months, p <  0.001), liver metastasis (p = 0.02), lower KPS (50 vs. 70, p <  0.001), lower BMI (22 vs. 24, p = 0.001), and inpatient status at consult (56% vs. 26%, p < 0.001). Patients who died within 30 days of RT were less likely to have hospice involved in their care (44% vs. 71%, p = 0.001). D30RT was associated with higher Chow and TEACHH scores at consult (p < 0.001 for both).


Twenty-four percent of patients received palliative RT within 30 days of death. Additional tools are necessary to help physicians identify patients who would benefit from short treatment courses or alternative interventions to maximize quality at the end of life.

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