Article Abstract

What are the ethical aspects surrounding intensive care unit admission in patients with cancer?

Authors: Jean-Philippe Rigaud, Audrey Large, Nicolas Meunier-Beillard, Stéphanie Gélinotte, Pierre-Louis Declercq, Fiona Ecarnot, Auguste Dargent, Jean-Pierre Quenot


Improvements in living conditions and increasing life expectancy have combined to result in ever older patients being admitted to hospital. In parallel, the increasing incidence of cancer, along with the improved efficacy of anti-cancer therapies has led to greater needs for intensive care among cancer patients. The objectives underpinning the management of cancer patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) are to achieve a return to a clinical status that would allow the patient to be either, transferred back to the original unit, or discharged from the hospital with an acceptable quality of life, and where warranted, pursuit of cancer therapy. The relevance of ICU admission should be assessed systematically for patients with active cancer. The decision needs to be made taking into account the expected benefit for the patient, the life-support therapies that are possible with discussion about a care project, and also considering the future quality of life and the short and long-term prognosis. Anticipating the question of potential ICU admission should help protect the patient against both inappropriate refusal of intensive care, and inappropriate admission to the ICU that might only lead to unreasonable therapeutic obstinacy. The intensive care physician has a major role to play in helping the cancer patient to develop an appropriate and flexible healthcare project. Anticipating the question of ICU admission in advance, as well as a close alliance between the oncologist and the intensive care physician are the two keys to the success of a healthcare project focused on the patient.