Article Title

Impact of ambulatory palliative care on symptoms and service outcomes in cancer patients: a retrospective cohort study



The integration of palliative care into routine cancer care has allowed for improved symptom control, relationship building and goal setting for patients and families. This study aimed to assess the efficacy of an ambulatory palliative care clinic on improving symptom burden and service outcomes for patients with cancer.


A retrospective review of data of cancer patients who attended an ambulatory care clinic and completed the Symptom Assessment Scale between January 2015 and December 2019. We classified moderate to severe symptoms as clinically significant. Clinically meaningful improvement in symptoms (excluding pain) was defined by a ≥ 1-point reduction from baseline and pain treatment response was defined as a ≥ 2-point or ≥ 30% reduction from baseline.


A total of 249 patients met the inclusion criteria. The most common cancer diagnosis was gastrointestinal (32%) and the median time between the initial and follow-up clinic was 4 weeks. The prevalence of clinically significant symptoms at baseline varied from 28% for nausea to 88% for fatigue, with 23% of the cohort requiring acute admission due to unstable physical/psychosocial symptoms. There was significant improvement noted in sleep (p < 0.001), pain (p = 0.002), wellbeing (p < 0.001), and overall symptom composite scores (p = 0.028). Despite 18–28% of patients achieving clinically meaningful symptom improvement, 18–66.3% of those with moderate to severe symptoms at baseline continued to have clinically significant symptoms on follow-up. A third of patients had opioid and/or adjuvant analgesic initiated/titrated, with 39% educated on pain management. Goals of care (31%), insight (28%) and psychosocial/existential issues (27%) were commonly explored.


This study highlights the burden of symptoms in a cohort of ambulatory palliative care patients and the opportunity such services can provide for education, psychosocial care and future planning. Additionally routine screening of cohorts of oncology patients using validated scales may identify patients who would benefit from early ambulatory palliative care.


Cancer pain, Cancer symptoms, Palliative care, End-of-life care, Ambulatory

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