Palliative radiotherapy (RT) is effective, but some patients die during treatment or too soon afterward to experience benefit. This study investigates end-of-life RT patterns to inform shared decision-making and facilitate treatment consistent with palliative goals.
All patients who died ≤6 months after initiating palliative RT at an academic cancer center between 2015 and 2018 were identified. Associations with time-to-death, early mortality (≤30 days), and midtreatment mortality were analyzed.
In total, 1,620 patients died ≤6 months from palliative RT initiation, including 574 (34%) deaths at ≤30 days and 222 (14%) midtreatment. Median survival was 43 days from RT start (95% CI, 41-45) and varied by site (P<.001), ranging from 36 (head and neck) to 53 days (dermal/soft tissue). On multivariable analysis, earlier time-to-death was associated with osseous (hazard ratio [HR], 1.33; P<.001) and head and neck (HR, 1.45; P<.001) sites, multiple RT courses ≤6 months (HR, 1.65; P<.001), and multisite treatments (HR, 1.40; P=.008), whereas stereotactic technique (HR, 0.77; P<.001) and more recent treatment year (HR, 0.82; P10 fractions (median, 40 vs 47 days; P=.272), although the latter entailed longer courses. The 30-day mortality group included 335 (58%) inpatients, who were 27% more likely to die midtreatment (P=.031). On multivariable analysis, midtreatment mortality among these inpatients was associated with thoracic (odds ratio [OR], 2.95; P=.002) and central nervous system (CNS; OR, 2.44; P=.002) indications, >5-fraction courses (OR, 3.27; P<.001), and performance status of 3 to 4 (OR, 1.63; P=.050). Conversely, palliative/supportive care consultation was associated with decreased midtreatment mortality (OR, 0.60; P=.045).
Earlier referrals and hypofractionated courses (≤5-10 treatments) should be routinely considered for palliative RT indications, given the short life expectancies of patients at this stage in their disease course. Providers should exercise caution for emergent thoracic and CNS indications among inpatients with poor prognoses due to high midtreatment mortality.

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