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Planning the Transition to End-of-Life Care in Advanced Cancer (PDQ®)


The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 500,000 Americans will die of cancer each year.[1] Anticipating the end of life (EOL) and making health care decisions about appropriate or preferred treatment or care near the EOL is intellectually challenging and emotionally distressing for patients with advanced cancer, their families and friends, oncology clinicians, and other professional caregivers. However, the adverse consequences of failing to plan for the transition to EOL care include the following:

  • Increased psychological distress.
  • Medical treatments inconsistent with personal preferences.
  • Utilization of burdensome and expensive health care resources of little therapeutic benefit.
  • A more difficult bereavement.

Oncologists and patients often avoid or delay planning for the EOL until the final weeks or days of life because of many potential factors. These factors can be at the individual, family, or societal levels. Emerging evidence suggests, however, that many of the listed factors are not truly barriers and can be overcome.

The purpose of this summary is to review the evidence surrounding conversations about EOL care in advanced cancer to inform providers, patients, and families about the transition to compassionate and effective EOL care.


  1. American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2015. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2015. Available online. Last accessed April 1, 2015.
  • Updated: March 13, 2015