• cancer;
  • decision-making;
  • hospices

OBJECTIVES: To identify factors that may influence the decision of whether to enter a hospice program or to continue with a traditional hospital approach in patients with advanced cancer and to understand their decision-making process.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional structured interview.

SETTING: One community-based hospice and three university-based teaching hospitals.

PARTICIPANTS: Two hundred thirty-four adult patients diagnosed with advanced lung, breast, prostate, or colon cancer with a life expectancy of less than 1 year: 173 hospice patients and 61 nonhospice patients receiving traditional hospital care.

MEASUREMENTS: Hospice and nonhospice patients' demographic, clinical, and other patient-related characteristics were compared. Multivariate analysis was then conducted to identify variables associated with the hospice care decision in a logistic regression model. Information sources regarding hospice care and people involved in the hospice decision were identified.

RESULTS: Patients receiving hospice care were significantly older (average age 69 vs 65 years, P = .009) and less educated (average 11.9 vs 12.9 years, P = .031) and had more people in their households (average 1.66 vs 1.16 persons, P = .019). Hospice patients had more comorbid conditions (1.30 vs 0.93, P = .035) and worse activities of daily living scores (7.01 vs 6.23, P = .030) than nonhospice patients. Hospice patients were more realistic about their disease course than their nonhospice counterparts. Patients' understanding of their prognoses affected their perceptions of the course of their disease. Hospice patients preferred quality of life to length of life. In the multivariate analysis, lower education level and greater number of people in the household were associated with the decision to enter hospice. A healthcare provider first told most of those who entered hospice about hospice. Families largely made the final decision to enter hospice (42%), followed by patients themselves (28%) and physicians (27%).

CONCLUSION: The decision to enter hospice is related to demographic, clinical, and other patient-related characteristics. This study suggests that the decision-making process for hospice care in patients with advanced cancer is multidimensional. The healthcare community may better meet the end-of-life care needs of advanced cancer patients through enhanced communication with patients and families, including providing accurate prognoses and better understanding of patients' preferences and values.