Black Cancer Patients Less Likely Than Whites to Receive the End-of-life Care They Prefer

Medical News Today, October 15, 2009

A new study of racial disparities in end-of-life (EOL) care revealed that black cancer patients’ treatment preferences were less likely to be observed than were white patients’ preferences, according to researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Some black patients who had opted not to be resuscitated or put on a ventilator in a life-or-death crisis received the treatment anyway, and died in an intensive care unit. Conversely, white patients who had expressed a preference for aggressive care in end-of-life discussions with a doctor were three times more likely to receive it than were black patients who had voiced the same wishes.

“End-of-life care discussions appeared to be more effective in ensuring that white patients’ treatment preferences were honored,” said Holly Prigerson, PhD, senior author of the report in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. {snip}

“We are not saying that black treatment preferences were ignored,” she emphasized. {snip}

{snip}

“None of the white patients who reported the completion of a do-not-resuscitate order, or a DNR, order at baseline subsequently received intensive care in the last week of life,” said Prigerson. “This did not prove to be the case for black patients. DNR orders did not significantly protect black patients from intensive end-of-life care in this study.”

She said the black-white disparity in adherence to advance directives may be linked to gaps in communication, some of which resulted from discontinuities in care that may have been more prevalent in the treatment of black patients.

For example, the researchers identified a few instances where DNR orders completed for black patients fell through the cracks because their informal caregivers (friend or family member) changed over the course of their illness, or because a critically ill patient was treated at a different hospital from the one that normally provided their care.

{snip}

The researchers, including lead author Elizabeth Trice Loggers, MD, of Dana-Farber and scientists at several other institutions, interviewed 234 white and 68 black patients with advanced cancer. The initial interview included questions about the patients’ preference for end-of-life care; the level of trust in their physicians; whether they had had an end-of-life care discussion with a doctor; and whether they had completed a DNR order. The patients’ informal caregivers were interviewed separately.

Each patient was monitored until their death, which on average was 3.5 months later. A patient was considered to have received intensive end-of-life care if he or she had undergone cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and/or been placed on a ventilator in the last week of life, followed by death in an intensive care unit (ICU).

{snip}

Blacks tended to prefer intensive end-of-life care, were less likely to report that a DNR order was completed for them, and much more likely to be “positive religious copers” believing that their outcome would ultimately be determined by God.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: The abstract for “Racial Differences in Predictors of Intensive End-of-Life Care in Advanced Cancer Patients,” by Holly G. Pigerson, et al., can be read here. The article is available as a PDF file on the same page, but there is a charge.]

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