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Mortality within 30 days of receiving systemic anti-cancer therapy at a regional oncology unit: What have we learned?


Dr Geoffrey Chong MBBS MD FRACP, Ballarat Base Hospital, Drummond Street North, Ballarat, Vic. 3350, Australia. Email:


Aims:  Benefits to patients from systemic anti-cancer therapies (SACT) occur at a cost of significant toxicities that can be life threatening. Published data of SACT mortality outside clinical trials is limited with no published Australia data. We aim to establish local outcomes at a regional Victorian oncology center to allow comparison with limited international data.

Methods:  An audit was undertaken at Ballarat Health Services to analyze all deaths occurring within 30 and 60 days of receiving SACT (cytotoxic chemotherapy and targeted therapy) for epithelial malignancies and hematological malignancies (excluding acute leukemia), over a 12-month period. Hormonal therapy was excluded.

Results:  Between 1 January and 31 December 2008, 378 patients received SACT. In total 13 deaths (3.4%) occurred within 30 days following SACT. Three deaths (23%) were definitely treatment-related – neutropenic sepsis, pneumocystis pneumonia and bowel perforation, respectively. Eight deaths (62%) were definitely unrelated to treatment. Most deaths were due to disease progression (six patients) For two patients (15%), the cause of death was unknown. Most patients were treated with palliative intent. Most patients were receiving first-line treatment (seven patients, 50%). A further five deaths (1.3%) occurred 31–60 days after SACT, four of which were due to disease progression.

Conclusion:  Our local outcome data are comparable to limited current international data. This type of audit reviews local outcomes and identifies factors contributing to mortality in order to improve standards of care. We encourage similar audits to establish national benchmarks of 30-day mortality rate.

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