DiversityNursing Blog

Clinical Signs For Impending Death In Cancer Patients Identified

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Feb 09, 2015 @ 01:05 PM

Written by James McIntosh

empty hospital bed resized 600

While many would rather not think about when someone might die, knowing how much longer a seriously ill person has left to live can be very useful for managing how they spend their final days. Researchers have now revealed eight signs in patients with advanced cancer associated with death within 3 days.

Diagnosis of an impending death can help clinicians, patients and their friends and family to make important decisions. Doctors can spare time and resources by stopping daily bloodwork and medication that will not make a short-term difference. Families will know if they still have time to visit their relatives.

"This study shows that simple bedside observations can potentially help us to recognize if a patient has entered the final days of life," says study author Dr. David Hui.

"Upon further confirmation of the usefulness of these 'tell-tale' signs, we will be able to help doctors, nurses, and families to better recognize the dying process, and in turn, to provide better care for the patients in the final days of life."

The study, published in Cancer, follows on from the Investigating the Process of Dying Study - a longitudinal observational study that documented the clinical signs of patients admitted to an acute palliative care unit (APCU). During the study, the researchers identified five signs that were highly predictive of an impending death within 3 days.

For the new study, the researchers again observed the physical changes in cancer patients admitted to two APCUs - at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, and the Barretos Cancer Hospital in Brazil.

Eight highly-specific physical signs were identified

A total of 357 cancer patients participated in the study. The researchers observed them and documented 52 physical signs every 12 hours following their admission to the APCUs. The patients were observed until they died or were discharged from the hospitals, with 57% dying during the study.

The researchers found eight highly-specific physical signs identifiable at the bedside that strongly suggested that a patient would die within the following 3 days if they were present. The signs identified were:

  • Decreased response to verbal stimuli
  • Decreased response to visual stimuli
  • Drooping of "smile lines"
  • Grunting of vocal cords
  • Hyperextension of neck
  • Inability to close eyelids
  • Non-reactive pupils
  • Upper gastrointestinal bleeding.

With the exception of upper gastrointestinal bleeding, all of these signs are related to deterioration in neurocognitive and neuromuscular function.

Neurological decline strongly associated with death

"The high specificity suggests that few patients who did not die within 3 days were observed to have these signs," the authors write. "These signs were commonly observed in the last 3 days of life with a frequency in patients between 38% and 78%. Our findings highlight that the progressive decline in neurological function is associated with the dying process."

As the study is limited by only examining cancer patients admitted to APCUs, it is not known whether these findings will apply to patients with different types of illness. The findings are currently being evaluated in other clinical settings such as inpatient hospices.

On account of the relatively small number of patients observed for this study, the authors also suggest that their findings should be regarded as preliminary until validated by further research.

In the meantime, the authors of the study are working to develop a diagnostic tool to assist clinical decision-making and educational materials for both health care professionals and patients' families.

"Upon further validation, the presence of these telltale signs would suggest that patients [...] are actively dying," they conclude. "Taken together with the five physical signs identified earlier, these objective bedside signs may assist clinicians, family members, and researchers in recognizing when the patient has entered the final days of life."

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: signs, diagnosis, ill, clinicians, health, research, nurses, doctors, health care, cancer, patients, death, treatment, clinical

Majority Of People Ignore Cancer Warning Signs, Study Finds

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Dec 03, 2014 @ 11:54 AM

By Honor Whiteman

cancer definition

Cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In 2012, there were around 14 million new cases of cancer and around 8.2 million deaths from the disease. But despite such alarming numbers, a new study by researchers from the UK finds that most people ignore cancer warning signs, attributing them instead to symptoms of less serious illnesses.

Lead study author Dr. Katriina Whitaker, senior research fellow at University College London in the UK, analyzed the responses of 1,724 people aged 50 and over to a health questionnaire that was sent to them in April 2012.

The questionnaire asked participants whether they had experienced any of 17 symptoms, 10 of which are defined as cancer "alarm" symptoms by Cancer Research UK. These symptoms include unexplained cough, changes in mole appearance, unexplained bleeding, persistent change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing and unexplained lumps. 

Participants were not told which symptoms are cancer warning signs.

The respondents were also asked what they thought was the cause of any symptoms they experienced, whether they deemed the symptoms to be serious and whether they visited their doctor as a result of their symptoms.

Only 2% of respondents considered warning symptoms to be cancer-related

Results of study - published in the journal PLOS ONE - revealed that 53% of participants reported that they had experienced at least one cancer warning sign over the past 3 months.

The most common cancer warning symptoms reported were persistent cough and persistent change in bowel habits, while unexplained weight loss and problems swallowing were the least common.

However, the researchers were surprised to find that of the respondents who reported cancer warning symptoms, only 2% considered cancer to be a potential cause.

What is more, Dr. Whitaker says that of participants who reported the most obvious signs of cancer - such as unexplained lumps or changes in mole appearance - most did not consider them to be cancer-related.

"Even when people thought warning symptoms might be serious, cancer didn't tend to spring to mind," adds Dr. Whitaker. "This might be because people were frightened and reluctant to mention cancer, thought cancer wouldn't happen to them or believed other causes were more likely."

On a positive note, respondents did deem the cancer warning signs to be more serious than symptoms not linked to cancer - such as shortness of breath, fatigue and sore throat- and 59% of those who experienced cancer warning signs visited their doctor.

But the researchers say their findings show that the majority of people are dismissing potential warning signs of cancer, which could be putting their health at serious risk. Dr. Whitaker says:

"Most people with potential warning symptoms don't have cancer, but some will and others may have other diseases that would benefit from early attention. That's why it's important that these symptoms are checked out, especially if they don't go away. But people could delay seeing a doctor if they don't acknowledge cancer as a possible cause."

"Most cancers are picked up through people going to their general practitioner (GP) about symptoms, and this study indicates that opportunities for early diagnosis are being missed," adds Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK. "Its results could help us find new ways of encouraging people with worrying symptoms to consider cancer as a possible cause and to get them checked out straight away with a GP."

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: risk, signs, symptoms, nursing, health, healthcare, research, doctors, medical, cancer

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