Prevalence of resuscitation in cancer patients at the end of life-a population-based observational study from Germany

Burkhard Dasch, Philipp Lenz, Peter K Zahn
Annals of Palliative Medicine 2020 September 8

BACKGROUND: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a medical emergency intervention aimed at ending a life-threatening cardiovascular arrest as quickly as possible. However, the medical ethics of starting CPR in patients who have incurable and terminal disease is a matter of controversy. This ethical dilemma affects cancer patients in particular, as they are often suffering from advanced disease in a palliative situation. Few data are as yet available concerning the prevalence of CPR in patients with terminal cancer.

METHODS: A population-based cross-sectional study was carried out on the basis of death certificates of two large cities in Germany evaluated for 2017. Medical data on resuscitation and cause of death were analyzed. Cancer patients with or without a palliative situation were identified, and the prevalence of resuscitation in these patients was determined. In addition, factors influencing resuscitation were calculated using binary multivariate regression.

RESULTS: A total of 8,496 persons died, 32.1% of whom [2,723] were cancer patients. A palliative situation was present in 80.9% of the cancer patients [2,202]. A total of 163 cancer patients and 1,006 individuals without cancer were resuscitated at the end of life, representing prevalences of 6.0% (95% CI, 5.1-6.9%) and 17.4% (95% CI, 16.4-18.4%), respectively. Cancer patients with a palliative disease status received CPR in 3.4% of cases (95% CI, 2.6-4.2%). More than half of the resuscitations were performed in hospital (57.7% of resuscitated persons and 68.7% of cancer patients). Sex, age, presence of a palliative situation, and care provided by a specialized outpatient palliative service were found to be independent influencing factors.

CONCLUSIONS: Six in 100 cancer patients, and slightly more than three in 100 cancer patients with a palliative disease status, undergo CPR at the end of their lives. Thus, the indication for resuscitation in advanced cancer patients is handled with care and responsibility in Germany.

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