Quality of life and survival prediction in terminal cancer patients

A multicenter study


  • Presented in part at the Sixth Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care, Geneva, Switzerland, September 19–23, 1999.



It remains unclear whether health-related quality of life (HRQoL) measurements from patients and staff can be combined with medical data to predict survival in patients with terminal cancer.


The correlations between survival and potential health-related quality-of-life (HRQoL) prognostic variables were explored in 2 independent cohorts of patients with terminal cancer (248 patients in Cohort 1 and 756 patients in Cohort 2) after adjusting for clinical and demographics variables using Cox regression models.


At the onset of the terminal phase (Cohort 1), the hazards of dying increased by 28% in the presence of dyspnea and by 68% in the presence of nausea/emesis; however, the most important predictors of worse survival were the presence of liver metastases (hazard ratio [HR], 2.5; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 1.8–3.8), lung tumor (HR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.7–3.4), and tumor burden (HR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.4–2.7). In contrast, for patients who were seen in later stages of their terminal disease (Cohort 2), dyspnea (HR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.1–1.9) and the coexistence of weakness with a diagnosis of digestive tumors (HR, 5.2; 95% CI, 1.2–21.8), breast tumors (HR, 3.1; 95% CI, 1.6–6.2), and genitourinary tumors (HR, 3.5; 95% CI, 1.6–7.8) were more predictive of survival than the type of tumor primary. Emotional functioning along with anxiety, spiritual distress, and lack of insight were not associated consistently with survival in both cohorts.


Health care professionals should focus on physical HRQoL indicators, such as nausea and emesis, dyspnea, and weakness, to gather prognostic clues in patients with terminal cancer. These symptoms may reflect consequences of cancer cachexia and the progress of patients toward this terminal syndrome. Psychosocial distress did not appear to be associated consistently with survival; however, future studies should clarify further the prognostic significance of “positive attitudes”, such as hope and optimism, in patients with advanced cancer. Cancer 2004. © 2004 American Cancer Society.