Measuring total suffering and will to live in an advanced cancer patient using a patient-centered outcome measure

a follow-up case study

Miguel Julião, Bárbara Antunes, Baltazar Nunes, Maria Ana Sobral, Petra Chaves, Daniela Runa, Eduardo Bruera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Introduction: The concept of total suffering is well known to palliative care, and it indicates that there are several complex and correlated factors, which contribute to a dynamic and unique experience of one's illness trajectory. Research on terminally ill patients' will to live (WtL) has revealed important insights on its fluctuations over time and its correlated factors. We report an N-of-1 case study with the aim of examining the concept of total suffering objectively, and the WtL trajectory over time, its fluctuations, as well as its possible correlation with other distressing symptoms in a terminally ill cancer patient. Case Description: A 72-year-old cancer patient who verbalized total suffering and a low WtL. We used the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS), added an additional WtL question, and asked the patient to rate her suffering using the ESAS twice daily (morning and afternoon) for a period of 28 days. Spearman's correlation coefficients between all physical and psychosocial ESAS items were statistical significant in 34 of the 45 performed correlations (30 highly significantly correlations and 4 in a lesser degree). WtL trajectory was fluctuant through the course of the illness, and significant correlations between WtL and all ESAS items were found, except for shortness of breath and drowsiness (after Bonferroni correction). High positive correlations were found between WtL and ESAS total score and ESAS physical and psychological subscores. Discussion: Developing evidence-based understanding of total suffering and WtL in the terminally ill will lead to better approaches to patients and their loved ones.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPalliative medicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Aug 2019


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