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Jessica R. Bauman and Jennifer S. Temel

The past decade has brought forth innovative research that questions the traditional oncology care model for patients with advanced cancer. Through integrating palliative care (PC) early into the disease course for patients with a poor-prognosis cancer, 3 seminal studies showed improvements in outcomes, ranging from quality of life, mood, patient satisfaction, prognostic understanding, health service use, and possibly survival. The results of these paradigm-changing studies generate questions about the mechanisms through which early PC improves patient outcomes and about how best to disseminate early PC models. This article reviews the 3 studies, examines challenges to conducting PC research, and considers future directions in the field.

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Ryan D. Nipp, Leah L. Thompson, Brandon Temel, Charn-Xin Fuh, Christine Server, Paul S. Kay, Sophia Landay, Daniel E. Lage, Lara Traeger, Erin Scott, Vicki A. Jackson, Nora K. Horick, Joseph A. Greer, Areej El-Jawahri and Jennifer S. Temel

Background: Oncologists often struggle with managing the complex issues unique to older adults with cancer, and research is needed to identify patients at risk for poor outcomes. Methods: This study enrolled patients aged ≥70 years within 8 weeks of a diagnosis of incurable gastrointestinal cancer. Patient-reported surveys were used to assess vulnerability (Vulnerable Elders Survey [scores ≥3 indicate a positive screen for vulnerability]), quality of life (QoL; EORTC Quality of Life of Cancer Patients questionnaire [higher scores indicate better QoL]), and symptoms (Edmonton Symptom Assessment System [ESAS; higher scores indicate greater symptom burden] and Geriatric Depression Scale [higher scores indicate greater depression symptoms]). Unplanned hospital visits within 90 days of enrollment and overall survival were evaluated. We used regression models to examine associations among vulnerability, QoL, symptom burden, hospitalizations, and overall survival. Results: Of 132 patients approached, 102 (77.3%) were enrolled (mean [M] ± SD age, 77.25 ± 5.75 years). Nearly half (45.1%) screened positive for vulnerability, and these patients were older (M, 79.45 vs 75.44 years; P=.001) and had more comorbid conditions (M, 2.13 vs 1.34; P=.017) compared with nonvulnerable patients. Vulnerable patients reported worse QoL across all domains (global QoL: M, 53.26 vs 66.82; P=.041; physical QoL: M, 58.95 vs 88.24; P<.001; role QoL: M, 53.99 vs 82.12; P=.001; emotional QoL: M, 73.19 vs 85.76; P=.007; cognitive QoL: M, 79.35 vs 92.73; P=.011; social QoL: M, 59.42 vs 82.42; P<.001), higher symptom burden (ESAS total: M, 31.05 vs 15.00; P<.001), and worse depression score (M, 4.74 vs 2.25; P<.001). Vulnerable patients had a higher risk of unplanned hospitalizations (hazard ratio, 2.38; 95% CI, 1.08–5.27; P=.032) and worse overall survival (hazard ratio, 2.26; 95% CI, 1.14–4.48; P=.020). Conclusions: Older adults with cancer who screen positive as vulnerable experience a higher symptom burden, greater healthcare use, and worse survival. Screening tools to identify vulnerable patients should be integrated into practice to guide clinical care.

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Ryan D. Nipp, Brandon Temel, Charn-Xin Fuh, Paul Kay, Sophia Landay, Daniel Lage, Esteban Franco-Garcia, Erin Scott, Erin Stevens, Terrence O’Malley, Supriya Mohile, William Dale, Lara Traeger, Vicki Jackson, Joseph A. Greer, Areej El-Jawahri and Jennifer S. Temel

Background: Oncologists often struggle with managing the unique care needs of older adults with cancer. This study sought to determine the feasibility of delivering a transdisciplinary intervention targeting the geriatric-specific (physical function and comorbidity) and palliative care (symptoms and prognostic understanding) needs of older adults with advanced cancer. Methods: Patients aged ≥65 years with incurable gastrointestinal or lung cancer were randomly assigned to a transdisciplinary intervention or usual care. Those in the intervention arm received 2 visits with a geriatrician, who addressed patients’ palliative care needs and conducted a geriatric assessment. We predefined the intervention as feasible if >70% of eligible patients enrolled in the study and >75% of eligible patients completed study visits and surveys. At baseline and week 12, we assessed patients’ quality of life (QoL), symptoms, and communication confidence. We calculated mean change scores in outcomes and estimated intervention effect sizes (ES; Cohen’s d) for changes from baseline to week 12, with 0.2 indicating a small effect, 0.5 a medium effect, and 0.8 a large effect. Results: From February 2017 through June 2018, we randomized 62 patients (55.9% enrollment rate [most common reason for refusal was feeling too ill]; median age, 72.3 years; cancer types: 56.5% gastrointestinal, 43.5% lung). Among intervention patients, 82.1% attended the first visit and 79.6% attended both. Overall, 89.7% completed all study surveys. Compared with usual care, intervention patients had less QoL decrement (–0.77 vs –3.84; ES = 0.21), reduced number of moderate/severe symptoms (–0.69 vs +1.04; ES = 0.58), and improved communication confidence (+1.06 vs –0.80; ES = 0.38). Conclusions: In this pilot trial, enrollment exceeded 55%, and >75% of enrollees completed all study visits and surveys. The transdisciplinary intervention targeting older patients’ unique care needs showed encouraging ES estimates for enhancing patients’ QoL, symptom burden, and communication confidence.

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Jamie M. Jacobs, Molly E. Ream, Nicole Pensak, Lauren E. Nisotel, Joel N. Fishbein, James J. MacDonald, Joanne Buzaglo, Inga T. Lennes, Steven A. Safren, William F. Pirl, Jennifer S. Temel and Joseph A. Greer

Background: Oral therapies are increasingly common in oncology care. However, data are lacking regarding the physical and psychologic symptoms patients experience, or how these factors relate to medication adherence and quality of life (QoL). Materials and Methods: From December 2014 through August 2016, a total of 181 adult patients who were prescribed oral targeted therapy or chemotherapy enrolled in a randomized study of adherence and symptom management at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Patients completed baseline assessments of adherence with electronic pill cap, QoL, symptom severity, mood, social support, fatigue, and satisfaction with clinicians and treatment. Relationships among these factors were examined using Pearson product-moment correlations and multivariable linear regression. Results: At baseline, the mean electronic pill cap adherence rate showed that patients took 85.57% of their oral therapy. The most commonly reported cancer-related symptoms were fatigue (88.60%), drowsiness (76.50%), disturbed sleep (68.20%), memory problems (63.10%), and emotional distress (60.80%). Patients who reported greater cancer-related symptom severity had lower adherence (r= −0.20). In a multivariable regression, greater depressive and anxiety symptoms, worse fatigue, less social support, lower satisfaction with clinicians and treatment, and higher symptom burden were associated with worse QoL (F[10, 146]=50.53; adjusted R2=0.77). Anxiety symptoms were most strongly associated with clinically meaningful decrements in QoL (β= −7.10; SE=0.22). Conclusions: Patients prescribed oral therapies struggle with adherence, and cancer-related symptom burden is high and related to worse adherence and QoL. Given perceptions that oral therapies are less impairing, these data underscore the strong need to address adherence issues, symptom burden, and QoL for these patients.

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Daniel E. Lage, Areej El-Jawahri, Charn-Xin Fuh, Richard A. Newcomb, Vicki A. Jackson, David P. Ryan, Joseph A. Greer, Jennifer S. Temel and Ryan D. Nipp

Background: National guidelines recommend regular measurement of functional status among patients with cancer, particularly those who are elderly or high-risk, but little is known about how functional status relates to clinical outcomes among hospitalized patients with advanced cancer. The goal of this study was to investigate how functional impairment is associated with symptom burden and healthcare utilization and clinical outcomes. Patients and Methods: We conducted a prospective observational study of patients with advanced cancer with unplanned hospitalizations at Massachusetts General Hospital from September 2014 through March 2016. Upon admission, nurses assessed patients’ activities of daily living (ADLs; mobility, feeding, bathing, dressing, and grooming). Patients with any ADL impairment on admission were classified as having functional impairment. We used the revised Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS-r) and Patient Health Questionnaire-4 to assess physical and psychological symptoms, respectively. Multivariable regression models were used to assess the relationships between functional impairment, hospital length of stay, and survival. Results: Among 971 patients, 390 (40.2%) had functional impairment. Those with functional impairment were older (mean age, 67.18 vs 60.81 years; P<.001) and had a higher physical symptom burden (mean ESAS physical score, 35.29 vs 30.85; P<.001) compared with those with no functional impairment. They were also more likely to report moderate-to-severe pain (74.9% vs 63.1%; P<.001) and symptoms of depression (38.3% vs 23.6%; P<.001) and anxiety (35.9% vs 22.4%; P<.001). Functional impairment was associated with longer hospital length of stay (β = 1.29; P<.001) and worse survival (hazard ratio, 1.73; P<.001). Conclusions: Hospitalized patients with advanced cancer who had functional impairment experienced a significantly higher symptom burden and worse clinical outcomes compared with those without functional impairment. These findings provide evidence supporting the routine assessment of functional status on hospital admission and using this to inform discharge planning, discussions about prognosis, and the development of interventions addressing patients’ symptoms and physical function.

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Joseph A. Greer, Jamie M. Jacobs, Nicole Pensak, Lauren E. Nisotel, Joel N. Fishbein, James J. MacDonald, Molly E. Ream, Emily A. Walsh, Joanne Buzaglo, Alona Muzikansky, Inga T. Lennes, Steven A. Safren, William F. Pirl and Jennifer S. Temel

Background: Patients with cancer are increasingly prescribed oral therapies, bearing greater responsibility for self-management of treatment adherence and adverse events. We conducted a randomized trial to test the use of a smartphone mobile app to improve symptoms and adherence to oral cancer therapy. Materials and Methods: From February 18, 2015, through December 31, 2016, 181 patients with diverse cancers who were prescribed oral therapy were randomized to receive either the smartphone mobile app or standard care. The mobile app included a medication plan with reminders, a symptom-reporting module, and patient education. Primary outcomes were adherence (per electronic pill caps), symptom burden (per MD Anderson Symptom Inventory), and quality of life (per the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–General). Participants also completed self-report measures of medication adherence, anxiety and depression symptoms, social support, quality of care, and healthcare utilization. Linear regression was used to assess intervention effects on adherence and change in self-report outcomes from baseline to week 12, controlling for baseline scores and social support. Results: Study groups did not differ across any outcome measure, with an overall mean adherence of 78.81% (SD, 26.66%) per electronic pill caps. However, moderation analyses showed that intervention effects on the primary adherence measure varied by baseline self-reported adherence and anxiety symptoms. Specifically, adherence rates per electronic pill caps were higher in patients randomized to the mobile app versus standard care within the subsamples of patients who reported baseline adherence problems (mean difference, –22.30%; 95% CI, –42.82 to –1.78; P=.034) and elevated anxiety (mean difference, –16.08%; 95% CI, –31.74 to –0.41; P=.044). Conclusions: Although the mobile app may not improve outcomes for all patients prescribed oral cancer therapy, the intervention may be beneficial for those with certain risk factors, such as difficulties with adherence or anxiety.

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Michael Levy, Thomas Smith, Amy Alvarez-Perez, Anthony Back, Justin N. Baker, Anna C. Beck, Susan Block, Shalini Dalal, Maria Dans, Thomas R. Fitch, Jennifer Kapo, Jean S. Kutner, Elizabeth Kvale, Sumathi Misra, William Mitchell, Diane G. Portman, Todd M. Sauer, David Spiegel, Linda Sutton, Eytan Szmuilowicz, Robert M. Taylor, Jennifer Temel, Roma Tickoo, Susan G. Urba, Elizabeth Weinstein, Finly Zachariah, Mary Anne Bergman and Jillian L. Scavone

The NCCN Guidelines for Palliative Care provide interdisciplinary recommendations on palliative care for patients with cancer. The NCCN Guidelines are intended to provide guidance to the primary oncology team on the integration of palliative care into oncology. The NCCN Palliative Care Panel's recommendations seek to ensure that each patient experiences the best quality of life possible throughout the illness trajectory. Accordingly, the NCCN Guidelines outline best practices for screening, assessment, palliative care interventions, reassessment, and after-death care.

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Michael H. Levy, Thomas Smith, Amy Alvarez-Perez, Anthony Back, Justin N. Baker, Susan Block, Shirley N. Codada, Shalini Dalal, Maria Dans, Jean S. Kutner, Elizabeth Kvale, Sumathi Misra, William Mitchell, Todd M. Sauer, David Spiegel, Linda Sutton, Robert M. Taylor, Jennifer Temel, Roma Tickoo, Susan G. Urba, Carin Van Zyl, Sharon M. Weinstein, Mary Anne Bergman and Jillian L. Scavone

The NCCN Guidelines for Palliative Care provide interdisciplinary recommendations on palliative care for patients with cancer. These NCCN Guidelines Insights summarize the NCCN panel’s discussions and guideline updates from 2013 and 2014. These include modifications/additions to palliative care screening and assessment protocols, new considerations for discussing the benefits and risks of anticancer therapy, and approaches to advance care planning. Recent updates focus on enhanced patient-centered care and seek to promote earlier integration of palliative care and advance care planning in oncology.

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Michael H. Levy, Michael D. Adolph, Anthony Back, Susan Block, Shirley N. Codada, Shalini Dalal, Teresa L. Deshields, Elisabeth Dexter, Sydney M. Dy, Sara J. Knight, Sumathi Misra, Christine S. Ritchie, Todd M. Sauer, Thomas Smith, David Spiegel, Linda Sutton, Robert M. Taylor, Jennifer Temel, Jay Thomas, Roma Tickoo, Susan G. Urba, Jamie H. Von Roenn, Joseph L. Weems, Sharon M. Weinstein, Deborah A. Freedman-Cass and Mary Anne Bergman

These guidelines were developed and updated by an interdisciplinary group of experts based on clinical experience and available scientific evidence. The goal of these guidelines is to help patients with cancer experience the best quality of life possible throughout the illness trajectory by providing guidance for the primary oncology team for symptom screening, assessment, palliative care interventions, reassessment, and afterdeath care. Palliative care should be initiated by the primary oncology team and augmented by collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of palliative care experts.

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Maria Dans, Thomas Smith, Anthony Back, Justin N. Baker, Jessica R. Bauman, Anna C. Beck, Susan Block, Toby Campbell, Amy A. Case, Shalini Dalal, Howard Edwards, Thomas R. Fitch, Jennifer Kapo, Jean S. Kutner, Elizabeth Kvale, Charles Miller, Sumathi Misra, William Mitchell, Diane G. Portman, David Spiegel, Linda Sutton, Eytan Szmuilowicz, Jennifer Temel, Roma Tickoo, Susan G. Urba, Elizabeth Weinstein, Finly Zachariah, Mary Anne Bergman and Jillian L. Scavone

The NCCN Guidelines for Palliative Care provide interdisciplinary recommendations on palliative care for patients with cancer. These NCCN Guidelines Insights summarize and provide context for the updated guidelines recommendations regarding hospice and end-of-life (EOL) care. Updates for 2017 include revisions to and restructuring of the algorithms that address important EOL concerns. These recommendations were revised to provide clearer guidance for oncologists as they care for patients with cancer who are approaching the transition to EOL care. Recommendations for interventions and reassessment based on estimated life expectancy were streamlined and reprioritized to promote hospice referrals and improved EOL care.