A Retrospective Review of the Frequency of Infections and Patterns of Antibiotic Utilization on a Palliative Care Unit
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Various disease-related and therapy-induced factors make cancer patients susceptible to infections. The epidemiology and management of infections in neutropenic cancer patients and patients with primary hematological malignancies has been widely reported, but very few studies have characterized infections and their management in palliative care patients. We conducted a retrospective review of 100 consecutive admissions to an acute palliative care unit with the objective of assessing overall and site-specific frequencies of infections, the pathogens involved and their antibiotics sensitivities, and the pattern of antibiotic utilization. The mean age was 64 +/- 11.5 years, the mean length of stay was 29.8 +/- 28.2 days, and 70% of patients died on the unit. Only one case of neutropenia was identified. Fifty-five of the 100 patients were diagnosed with a total of 74 separate infections. The most frequent sites of infections were the urinary tract (39.2%), the respiratory tract (36.5%), skin and subcutaneous tissues (12.2%), and blood (5.4%). Fifty-four culture-positive infections were identified. Overall, the most common organisms were Escherichia coli (22.9%), Staphylococcus aureus (20%), and Enterococcus (11.4%). Fifty-three of the 74 (71.6%) infections were treated with antibiotics. The decision-making process regarding treatment versus nontreatment of an infection can be complex in terminally ill patients and needs to be individualized. Symptom control is the primary objective in the majority of cases. The appropriate management of infections, with specific attention to measures that would improve patients' quality of life, should be a research priority in patients with advanced cancer.
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