A Pilot Trial of Early Specialty Palliative Care for Patients with Advanced Pancreatic Cancer: Challenges Encountered and Lessons Learned

Yael Schenker, Nathan Bahary, Rene Claxton, Julie Childers, Edward Chu, Dio Kavalieratos, Linda King, Barry Lembersky, Greer Tiver, Robert M. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer suffer from high morbidity and mortality. Specialty palliative care may improve quality of life. Objective: Assess the feasibility, acceptability, and perceived effectiveness of early specialty physician-led palliative care for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer and their caregivers. Design: A mixed-methods pilot randomized controlled trial in which patient-caregiver pairs were randomized (2:1) to receive specialty palliative care, in addition to standard oncology care versus standard oncology care alone. Setting/Subjects: At a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Western Pennsylvania, 30 patients with advanced pancreatic adenocarcinoma and their caregivers (N = 30), oncologists (N = 4), and palliative care physicians (N = 3) participated. Measurements: Feasibility (enrollment, three-month outcome-assessment, and intervention completion rates), acceptability, and perceived effectiveness (process interviews with patients, caregivers, and physicians). Results: Consent:approach rate was 49%, randomized:consent rate 55%, and three-month outcome assessment rate 75%. Two patients and three caregivers withdrew early. The three-month mortality rate was 13%. Patients attended a mean of 1.3 (standard deviation 1.1) palliative care visits during the three-month period. Positive experiences with palliative care included receiving emotional support and symptom management. Negative experiences included inconvenience, long travel times, spending too much time at the cancer center, and no perceived palliative care needs. Physicians suggested embedding palliative care within oncology clinics, tailoring services to patient needs, and facilitating face-to-face communication between oncologists and palliative physicians. Conclusions: A randomized trial of early palliative care for advanced pancreatic cancer did not achieve feasibility goals. Integrating palliative care within oncology clinics may increase acceptability and perceived effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-36
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • palliative care
  • pancreatic cancer
  • pilot trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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