Early palliative care, concomitant with disease-directed treatments, is recommended for all patients with advanced cancer. This study assesses population-level trends in palliative care use among a large cohort of commercially insured patients with metastatic cancer, applying an expanded definition of palliative care services based on claims data.
Using nationally representative commercial insurance claims data, we identified patients with metastatic breast, colorectal, lung, bronchus, trachea, ovarian, esophageal, pancreatic, and liver cancers and melanoma between 2001 and 2016. We assessed the annual proportions of these patients who received services specified as, or indicative of, palliative care. Using Cox proportional hazard models, we assessed whether the time from diagnosis of metastatic cancer to first encounter of palliative care differed by demographic characteristics, socioeconomic factors, or region.
In 2016, 36% of patients with very poor prognosis cancers received a service specified as, or indicative of, palliative care versus 18% of those with poor prognosis cancers. Being diagnosed in more recent years (2009-2016 2001-2008: hazard ratio [HR], 1.8; < .001); a diagnosis of metastatic esophagus, liver, lung, or pancreatic cancer, or melanoma ( breast cancer, eg, esophagus HR, 1.89; < .001); a greater number of comorbidities (American Hospital Formulary Service classes > 10 0: HR, 1.71; < .001); and living in the Northeast (HR, 1.43; < .001) or Midwest ( South: HR, 1.39; < .001) were the strongest predictors of shorter time from diagnosis to palliative care.
Use of palliative care among commercially insured patients with advanced cancers has increased since 2001. However, even with an expanded definition of services specified as, or indicative of, palliative care, < 40% of patients with advanced cancers received palliative care in 2016.