The aims of this study were to assess the trajectory of health-related quality of life (HRQOL) during the last year of life in patients with advanced non-small–cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and to explore when and to what degree deterioration of symptoms and physical functioning accelerate towards the end of life.
Data from two RCTs of first-line chemotherapy in advanced NSCLC was analyzed. HRQOL was assessed repeatedly using the EORTC QLQ-C30 and LC13. Changes in HRQOL scores were investigated relative to the time of death.
The study sample included 730 patients, with a median of four HRQOL assessments per patient (range 1–9). Fatigue, dyspnea, appetite loss, and cough were the most pronounced symptoms in all phases of the disease trajectory. The deterioration rates of global quality of life, physical function, and key symptoms were relatively slow until 4 months before death. Then, the decline accelerated, and for physical function, fatigue, and dyspnea, there was a very rapid decline in the last 2 months.
Patients with advanced NSCLC experience a high symptom burden that worsens over time, especially in the last 4 months. Regular symptom monitoring may help identify where patients are in the disease trajectory, serve as a trigger for changes in anticancer and symptomatic treatment, and facilitate discussions about end-of-life care.