Find Print
0 Find synonyms

Find synonyms Find exact match

What's new in palliative care
Official reprint from UpToDate® ©2016 UpToDate®
The content on the UpToDate website is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. The use of this website is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use ©2016 UpToDate, Inc.
What's new in palliative care
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Oct 14, 2016.

The following represent additions to UpToDate from the past six months that were considered by the editors and authors to be of particular interest. The most recent What's New entries are at the top of each subsection.


Palliative care consultation for families of patients in the intensive care unit (August 2016)

Post-intensive care syndrome-family (PICS-F) is a term given to family members who have been affected physically and psychologically during the intensive care unit (ICU) stay of critically ill patients. Therapeutic measures for PICS-F are poorly studied. One multicenter randomized trial examined the impact of a palliative care-led consultation for surrogate decision-makers of critically ill patients in the ICU who were unlikely to wean from mechanical ventilation [1]. Compared with routine family meetings conducted by the ICU team, palliative care-led consultation did not reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression of family members and may have increased symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. However, limitations of this study include possible inadequate "dosing" of the intervention (on average, 1.4 encounters per family and physician presence at only 9 percent of meetings), leaving the possibility that more aggressive and supportive interventions may have different outcomes. (See "Post-intensive care syndrome (PICS)", section on 'Post-intensive care syndrome-family'.)


Updated MASCC/ESMO guidelines for nausea and emesis related to cancer treatment (October 2016)

Updated guidelines for prevention and management of cancer therapy-associated nausea and vomiting are available from the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer and the European Society of Medical Oncology , the consensus panel also provides guidance on the use of prophylactic antiemetics in patients undergoing radiation therapy. (See "Prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in adults", section on 'Recommendations for specific groups'.)

Olanzapine for prevention of nausea and vomiting induced by highly emetogenic chemotherapy regimens (August 2016)

The antipsychotic olanzapine may be a particularly useful agent for preventing delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, which is often poorly controlled with conventional antiemetics. The effectiveness of adding olanzapine to a standard antiemetic regimen was shown in a trial in which 380 patients receiving highly emetogenic chemotherapy (cisplatin or doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide for breast cancer) were randomly assigned to dexamethasone, an NK1R antagonist, and a 5-HT3 receptor antagonist plus either olanzapine (10 mg daily orally on days 1 through 4) or placebo [3]. The proportion of patients with no chemotherapy-induced nausea (the primary endpoint) was higher with olanzapine both in the first 24 hours after chemotherapy and in the delayed period. Rates of complete response (no emesis and no use of rescue medication) were also higher with olanzapine over a five-day period. Patients receiving olanzapine had more sedation on day 2 (severe in 5 percent), which resolved despite continued olanzapine. On the basis of this trial, we now suggest the addition of olanzapine on days 1 through 4 to standard antiemetic therapy for patients receiving highly emetogenic chemotherapy. (See "Prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in adults", section on 'Olanzapine'.)

ASCO policy statement on access to opioids for cancer-related pain (July 2016)

Safe prescribing of opioids requires consideration of the risks associated with drug abuse, misuse, and diversion to the illicit marketplace. With increasing prescription drug abuse and opioid-associated overdose deaths, federal and state governments have taken additional steps to regulate opioids beyond the restrictions imposed by the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, inadequate treatment of cancer-related pain is a real problem, and concerns have been raised that many of these well-intentioned proposals will limit legitimate access to opioids for patients with cancer, and challenge the ability of oncologists and palliative care physicians to provide compassionate care that includes adequate pain relief. In response to these concerns, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has issued a policy statement that emphasizes principles for balancing opioid access with the need to curb misuse and abuse [4]. (See "Cancer pain management: General principles and risk management for patients receiving opioids", section on 'Risk assessment and management for patients receiving opioids'.)

Diagnostic criteria for opioid-induced constipation (May 2016)

Constipation is the most common and persistent side effect of opioid analgesics. Diagnostic criteria for opioid-induced constipation are now available (the Rome-IV criteria), which are based upon reduced bowel frequency, development or worsening of straining, a sense of incomplete evacuation, or a patient's perception of distress related to bowel habits [5]. (See "Cancer pain management with opioids: Prevention and management of side effects", section on 'Diagnosis'.)

Pharmacologic management of chronic cough in palliative care (April 2016)

A centrally acting opioid is the mainstay of pharmacologic therapy for chronic cough in patients receiving palliative care, particularly those with intrathoracic cancers. Gabapentin and pregabalin are alternatives to opioids that are recommended for unexplained chronic cough in updated guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) [6]. However, this recommendation does not relate to superior efficacy, but instead appears to reflect concern about opioid diversion or abuse, which may not be relevant to palliative care populations. The prescribing clinician should not withhold opioids as an effective treatment for chronic cough because of fear of abuse, unless such concerns are valid. (See "Palliative care: Overview of cough, stridor, and hemoptysis", section on 'Centrally acting'.)


Declining use of feeding tubes in advanced dementia (August 2016)

Patients with advanced dementia commonly have eating problems in the final stages of illness, and caregivers are faced with decisions about whether to continue oral feeding by hand or place a long-term feeding tube. The available evidence fails to demonstrate any health benefits of tube feeding over ongoing hand feeding, and an increasing number of consensus-based guidelines advocate against feeding tube placement in this setting. In keeping with these recommendations, a recent study in the United States found that the proportion of nursing home residents with advanced dementia who received a feeding tube within one year of the onset of feeding problems decreased by approximately 50 percent between the years 2000 and 2014 [7]. Advance care planning is critical in the management of patients with dementia and should include preparatory discussions about eating problems and other common complications encountered in the advanced stages of the disease. (See "Palliative care of patients with advanced dementia", section on 'Oral versus tube feeding'.)

ASCO guidelines for treatment of pancreatic cancer (June 2016)

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has issued Clinical Practice Guidelines for metastatic, locally advanced unresectable, and potentially resectable pancreatic cancer [8-10]. The guidelines all emphasize the importance of assessing symptom burden, psychological status, and social supports as early as possible; aggressive supportive care for symptoms such as pain; early referral to palliative care, if appropriate; the integration of patient preferences, goals of care, performance status, and comorbidity into treatment selection; the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration to formulate treatment and care plans; and the need to provide information on clinical trials to all patients. (See "Chemotherapy for advanced exocrine pancreatic cancer" and "Initial chemotherapy and radiation for nonmetastatic locally advanced unresectable and borderline resectable exocrine pancreatic cancer" and "Treatment for potentially resectable exocrine pancreatic cancer".)


Use of adjunctive antidepressants for treating complicated grief with comorbid depression (August 2016)

Complicated grief is a distinct syndrome that often occurs in bereaved individuals and is characterized by maladaptive thoughts, dysfunctional behaviors, and poorly regulated emotions. The best treatment for complicated grief is psychotherapy that is specific for complicated grief (complicated grief therapy, CGT). Antidepressants are frequently prescribed as an adjunctive therapy. Although adjunctive antidepressants do not appear to mitigate symptoms of complicated grief, they can improve comorbid unipolar major depression, which is common. In a recent trial, 395 adults with complicated grief were randomly assigned to citalopram alone, placebo alone, CGT plus citalopram, or CGT plus placebo [11]. As expected, more patients responded to CGT plus placebo than placebo alone. The addition of citalopram did not significantly improve complicated grief outcomes. However, improvement of depressive symptoms was greater with citalopram. Thus, in patients with complicated grief and depressive symptoms, the addition of citalopram may be helpful. (See "Complicated grief in adults: Treatment", section on 'Other options'.)


New Mexico Supreme Court rules against physician-assisted death (July 2016)

In the United States, as of June 2016, physician-assisted death (PAD) is legal by statute in four jurisdictions (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and California), and it has been ruled not illegal by a state court decision in Montana. The status of the law in New Mexico had been in flux. A court ruling potentially legalizing the practice in 2014 was struck down in 2015 by a New Mexico Court of Appeals [12]. In a unanimous decision handed down June 30, 2016, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that there was no constitutional right to physician-assisted death but did not preclude the legislature’s creating a statutory right with appropriate safeguards [13]. (See "Responding to requests for physician-assisted death", section on 'Current legal status'.)

Use of UpToDate is subject to the Subscription and License Agreement.


  1. Carson SS, Cox CE, Wallenstein S, et al. Effect of Palliative Care-Led Meetings for Families of Patients With Chronic Critical Illness: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA 2016; 316:51.
  2. Roila F, Molassiotis A, Herrstedt J, et al. 2016 MASCC and ESMO guideline update for the prevention of chemotherapy- and radiotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and of nausea and vomiting in advanced cancer patients. Ann Oncol 2016; 27:v119.
  3. Navari RM, Qin R, Ruddy KJ, et al. Olanzapine for the Prevention of Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting. N Engl J Med 2016; 375:134.
  4. ASCO Policy Stattement on Opioid Therapy: Protecting access to treatment for cancewr-related pain. Policy statement available online at (Accessed on July 20, 2016).
  5. Mearin F, Lacy BE, Chang L, et al. Bowel Disorders. Gastroenterology 2016.
  6. Gibson P, Wang G, McGarvey L, et al. Treatment of Unexplained Chronic Cough: CHEST Guideline and Expert Panel Report. Chest 2016; 149:27.
  7. Mitchell SL, Mor V, Gozalo PL, et al. Tube Feeding in US Nursing Home Residents With Advanced Dementia, 2000-2014. JAMA 2016; 316:769.
  8. Balaban EP, Mangu PB, Khorana AA, et al. Locally Advanced, Unresectable Pancreatic Cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Oncol 2016; 34:2654.
  9. Khorana AA, Mangu PB, Berlin J, et al. Potentially Curable Pancreatic Cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Oncol 2016; 34:2541.
  10. Sohal DP, Mangu PB, Khorana AA, et al. Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Oncol 2016; 34:2784.
  11. Shear MK, Reynolds CF 3rd, Simon NM, et al. Optimizing Treatment of Complicated Grief: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry 2016; 73:685.
  12. Tucker KL. Aid in Dying: An End of Life-Option Governed by Best Practices. J Health Biomed Law 2012; 324:691. Available at (Accessed on July 13, 2015).
  13. (Accessed on July 05, 2016).
Topic 95113 Version 6812.0

Topic Outline


All topics are updated as new information becomes available. Our peer review process typically takes one to six weeks depending on the issue.