Comparing functional decline and distress from symptoms in people with thoracic life-limiting illnesses: Lung cancers and non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases

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Background: Malignant and non-malignant respiratory diseases account for >4.6 million deaths annually worldwide. Despite similar symptom burdens, serious inequities in access to palliative care persists for people with non-malignant respiratory diseases. Aim: To compare functional decline and symptom distress in advanced malignant and non-malignant lung diseases using consecutive, routinely collected, point-of-care national data. Setting/participants: The Australian national Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration collects functional status (Australia-modified Karnofsky Performance Status (AKPS)) and symptom distress (patient-reported 0-10 numerical rating scale) in inpatient and community settings. Five years of data used Joinpoint and weighted scatterplot smoothing. Results: In lung cancers (89 904 observations; 18 586 patients) and non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases (14 827 observations; 4279 patients), age at death was significantly lower in people with lung cancer (73 years; IQR 65-81) than non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases (81 years; IQR 73-87 years; p<0.001). Four months before death, median AKPS was 40 in lung cancers and 30 in non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases (p<0.001). Functional decline was similar in the two groups and accelerated in the last month of life. People with non-malignant diseases accessed palliative care later. Pain-related distress was greater with cancer and breathing-related distress with non-malignant disease. Breathing-related distress increased towards death in malignant, but decreased in non-malignant disease. Distress from fatigue and poor sleep were similar for both. Conclusions: In this large dataset unlike previous datasets, the pattern of functional decline was similar as was overall symptom burden. Timely access to palliative care should be based on needs not diagnoses.

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