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Keywords:

  • cancer;
  • home-based care;
  • inpatient care;
  • nursing;
  • palliative care;
  • quality of life

Aims.  This paper reports a comparative study of the symptom experience, physical and psychological health, perceived control of the effects of cancer and quality of life of terminally ill cancer patients receiving inpatient and home-based palliative care, and the factors that predict quality of life.

Background.  Quality of life is a major goal in the care of patients with terminal cancer. In addition to symptom management, psychological care and provision of support, being cared for at home is considered an important determinant of patient well-being. A more comprehensive understanding of the impact of cancer on patients and their families will inform the delivery of palliative care services.

Methods.  Fifty-eight patients with terminal cancer (32 inpatients, 26 home-based) were recruited from major palliative care centres in Australia in 1999. A structured questionnaire designed to obtain sociodemographic information, medical details and standard measures of symptoms, physical and psychological health, personal control and quality of life was administered by personal interview.

Results.  The two groups were similar on most demographic measures, although more home-care patients were married, of Australian descent and had private health insurance cover. The most prevalent symptoms reported were weakness, fatigue, sleeping during the day and pain. Patients receiving home-based services had statistically significantly less symptom severity and distress, lower depression scores, and better physical health and quality of life than those receiving inpatient care. Home-care patients also reported statistically significantly more control over the effects of their illness, medical care and treatment received, and the course of the disease. Multiple regression analyses showed that better global physical health, greater control over the effects of cancer and lower depression scores were statistically significant predictors of higher quality of life.

Conclusions.  The main issues arising from the findings for nurses are the early detection and management of both physical and psychological symptoms, particularly fatigue, pain, anxiety and depression, and the need to use strategies that will empower patients to have a greater sense of control over their illness and treatment. Research is needed to identify other factors that may impact on quality of life, and to establish the extent to which inpatient and home-based care meets the needs of both the patient with terminal cancer and their family.