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Black Cancer Patients Choose More Aggressive End-of-Life Care

MONDAY, June 2 -- Terminally ill black cancer patients are more likely than white patients to choose aggressive end-of-life care, according to researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Their study included 231 white and 61 black patients with stage IV metastatic cancer who were interviewed when they entered the study. Patients were asked questions, such as, "Would you want the doctors here to do everything they can to keep you alive, even if you were going to die in a day or two?"

Black patients were more than four times more likely to die in the intensive care unit than white patients, the study found.

"This is the first study focused on black/white differences that prospectively asked [terminal cancer patients] what kind of care they wanted at the end of life, and then documented the kind of care they actually received and the place of their death," lead author Dr. Elizabeth Trice said in a prepared statement.

The researchers weren't able to pinpoint precisely why black patients preferred more aggressive end-of-life care. It wasn't explained by differences in education, physical or mental health, insurance, social support, doctor-patient communication, or advance care planning.

The initial interviews found that black patients had a higher quality of life and appeared more at peace than white patients, which could explain why black patients were more likely to favor a treatment plan aimed at extending life.

"There is something different about the way black patients and white patients approach the end of life," Trice said. This may be due to cultural attitudes, religious beliefs, and how thoroughly they've been informed about and comprehend their prognosis.

The study was presented Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, in Chicago.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more about end-of-life care.

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Posted: June 2008