Although adults older than 65 newly diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) have a generally poor prognosis and short life expectancy, fewer than half were enrolled in hospice, and of those patients who were enrolled, two-thirds entered hospice within the last week of life, results of a retrospective cohort study show.

The findings suggest that there is substantial room for improvement in the care of older patients with AML in their last days of life, said investigators led by Rong Wang, PhD, and colleagues from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

“[We] found that the current end-of-life care for older patients with AML is suboptimal, as reflected by low hospice enrollment and high use of potentially aggressive treatment. Transfer in and out of hospice was associated with the receipt of transfusions. Changes to current hospice services, such as enabling the provision of transfusion support, and improvements in physician-patient communications, may help facilitate better end-of-life care in this patient population,” they wrote (J Clin Oncol. 2017 Aug 7. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2017.72.7149 )

Patients aged 65 and over with AML have a median overall survival (OS) of only about 2 months, and the older the patient, the worse the survival, with patients 85 and older having a median OS of just 1 month, the investigators noted.

“Hence, end-of-life care is particularly relevant for this patient population,” they wrote.

To get a better idea of how clinicians prescribe hospice and palliative care for older patients with AML, Dr. Wang and colleagues conducted a population-based, retrospective cohort study of patients with AML who were 66 or older at diagnosis, received a diagnosis from 1999 through 2011, and died before the end of 2012.

They reviewed Medicare claims data on 13,156 patients to see whether patients were receiving aggressive care such as chemotherapy and whether and when they were enrolled in hospice.

The investigators found that the proportion of patients who were enrolled in hospice after an AML diagnosis increased from 31.3% in 1999 to 56.4% in 2012 (P for trend less than .01).

They also discovered, however, that most of the increase was attributable to patients who were enrolled within the last week of life.

When they compared patients who died within 30 days of diagnosis to those who lived longer than 30 days after diagnosis, they found that the longer-lived patients were significantly more likely to have been enrolled in hospice (48.1% vs. 30.7%, P less than .01). Additionally, of those patients who were enrolled in hospice, 51.2% of those who died within 30 days of entering hospice had been enrolled in the last 3 days of life, compared with 24.9% of those who survived for more than a month after entering hospice (P value not shown).

Over the course of the study 1,528 patients (11.6%) had chemotherapy within their last two weeks of life. The proportion of patients undergoing chemotherapy within their last 14 days increased from 7.7% in 1999 to 18.8% in 2012 (P for trend less than .01).

Patients who had end-of-life chemotherapy were significantly more likely to have had an ICU stay in the last month of life (43.0% vs. 28.4%; P less than .01) and were significantly more likely to be enrolled in hospice (22.1% vs. 47.4%, P less than .01) than patients who did not get chemotherapy with the last 14 days of life.

Predictors for end-of-life chemotherapy were male sex, being married, and dying in more recent years. Patients who were older, had state Medicaid buy-in (an optional program for workers with disabilities), or who lived outside the Northeast or major metropolitan areas were less likely to be subjected to chemotherapy in their final days.

Overall, 3,956 patients (30.1%) were admitted to the ICU within 30 days of their deaths. The percentage of ICU admissions just before death increased from 25.2% in 1999 to 31.3% in 2012 (P for trend .01).

Predictors for late-life ICU admission were similar to those for chemotherapy, except that patients with state Medicaid buy-in had 19% greater odds of being admitted to an ICU within 30 days of death (P less than .01).

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Wang reported no relevant conflicts of interests. Multiple coauthors reported financial relationships with various companies.