Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Preferences for active and aggressive intervention among patients with advanced cancer

Vincent Maida123*, Jonathan Peck4, Marguerite Ennis5, Navjot Brar6 and Alexandria R Maida7

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Palliative Medicine, William Osler Health System, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 Division of Palliative Care, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3 Division of Palliative Care, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

4 Faculty of Science, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

5 Applied Statistician, Markham, Ontario, Canada

6 Department of Biology, University of Toronto, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

7 Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:592  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-592

Published: 28 October 2010



Intrinsic to "Patient-Centered Care" is being respectful and responsive to individual patient preferences, expressed needs, and personal values. Establishing a patient's preferences for active and aggressive intervention is imperative and foundational to the development of advance care planning. With the increasing awareness and acceptance of palliative philosophies of care, patients with advanced cancer are increasingly transitioning from active and aggressive medical management (AAMM) to conservative palliative management (CPM).


A cross-sectional study based on a prospective and sequential case series of patients referred to a regional palliative medicine consultative program was assembled between May 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006. Patients and/or their substitute decision makers (SDM) completed a questionnaire, at baseline, that assessed their preferences for AAMM en route to their eventual deaths. Seven common interventions constituting AAMM were surveyed: cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) & mechanical ventilation (MV), chemotherapy, antibiotics, anticoagulants, blood transfusions, feeding tubes, and artificial hydration. Multivariable analyses were conducted on the seven interventions individually as well as on the composite score that summed preferences for the seven interventions.


380 patients with advanced cancer agreed to participate in the study. A trend to desire a mostly conservative palliative approach was noted as 42% of patients desired one or fewer interventions. At baseline, most patients and their SDM's were relatively secure about decisions pertaining to the seven interventions as the rates of being "undecided" ranged from a high of 23.4% for chemotherapy to a low of 3.9% for feeding tubes. Multivariable modeling showed that more AAMM was preferred by younger patients (P < 0.0001), non-Caucasians (P = 0.042), patients with higher baseline Palliative Performance Scale scores (P = 0.0002) and where a SDM was involved in the decision process (p = 0.027). Non-statistically significant trends to prefer more AAMM was observed with male gender (p = 0.077) and higher levels of the Charlson Comorbidity index (p = 0.059). There was no association between treatment preferences and cancer class.


Although the majority of patients with advanced cancer in this study expressed preferences for CPM, younger age, higher baseline PPSv2, and involvement of SDMs in the decision process were significantly associated with preferences for AAMM.