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Dying at Home Often Easier on Cancer Patients, Caregivers
Date:9/14/2010

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- For people with advanced cancer, dying at home rather than the hospital results in higher quality-of-life scores at the end of life, and may be easier on the patients' caregivers as well.

A study published online Sept. 13 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that compared to people who died in intensive care units (ICU) or other areas of a hospital, when people died at home, their loved ones were less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder or prolonged grief disorder, marked by intense, disabling grief that goes on longer than six months.

"Where someone dies has important implications for those they leave behind," said the study's lead author, Dr. Alexi Wright, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

"It's really important for people to articulate what they want. Dying at home may improve your own quality of life before death and it may improve your loved ones' grief after your death," she noted.

While most cancer patients prefer to die at home, that's not always what happens, according to background information in the study. More than one-third of cancer patients die in the hospital and 8 percent die in the intensive care unit. Almost one-quarter of Medicare costs stem from intensive care treatment during the last month of life, according to the study.

To get an idea of whether the location where death occurs is associated with a better quality of life for patients at the end of life, and whether or not the place of death affects caregivers, Wright and her colleagues recruited 342 terminal cancer patients and their primary caregivers.

The cancer patients were interviewed at the start of the study, which was a median time of about 4.5 months before they died. Their caregivers were also interviewed when the study began and th
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