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Anemia at the end of life: prevalence, significance, and causes in patients receiving palliative care

Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 26(6): 1132-1139

Anemia at the end of life: prevalence, significance, and causes in patients receiving palliative care

While data exist on the prevalence and causes of anemia in defined groups of the elderly, information on palliative care patients is limited. Compared to actively treated oncology patients, for whom anemia treatment has demonstrated improved quality of life and symptom alleviation, studies of treatment outcomes in palliative care patients are limited. Knowledge of the extent and causes of anemia in palliative care patients is needed, as correction of anemia in these patients could potentially improve their physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning. In the present study, clinical data and blood test results of 105 patients meeting specific eligibility criteria were examined to estimate the prevalence of anemia and investigate its causes. Ninety-five (90.5%) patients had advanced cancer. Based on World Health Organization criteria, anemia was found in 77% of men (Hb <130 g/l) and 68.2% of women (Hb <120 g/l). The diagnosis was anemia of chronic disease in 76.7% of women and 46.8% of men. Patients with prostate cancer had a significantly lower mean Hb level (P=0.007) and more evidence of bone metastases (P=0.0007) than those with other cancers. Neutrophil hypersegmentation, suggesting occult folate deficiency, was present in 28.6% of patients, being more common in those with major weight loss (58.3%) than those with moderate (37%) or mild/no weight loss (26%) (P=0.019). The findings suggest that anemia is highly prevalent in the palliative care setting. Although anemia of chronic disease is most common, occult folate deficiency may be more prevalent than previously suspected. The findings suggest that a low serum folate level is an insensitive marker of occult folate deficiency. A randomized controlled trial of folic acid treatment is proposed.

Accession: 048259175

PMID: 14654265

DOI: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2003.04.001

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