8 Signs That Mean Cancer Death Is Nigh
Researchers studied 357 cancer patients to arrive at findings
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2015 9:52 AM CST
Updated Feb 9, 2015 10:00 AM CST
   (AP Photo/Melissa Sloan)

(Newser) – It's possible to know when a cancer patient's death is imminent, according to a new study that has identified eight "tell-tale" signs that indicate that the end is nigh. A researcher involved in the study, published in Cancer, explains why the findings are so novel: Previous studies focused on "people who were recognized as dying, so there's a potential bias built into this model." In this instance, researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center instead observed their subjects twice daily—noting 52 physical and cognitive signs—from the moment they were admitted to one of two acute palliative care units, "without knowing if the patient would die or be discharged," explains Dr. David Hui. Of the 357 patients they studied, 57% died, and eight of the 52 signs were deemed most associated with death coming within three days.

Write the authors, "These signs were commonly observed in the last three days of life with a frequency in patients between 38% and 78%." They are:

  1. nonreactive pupils
  2. decreased response to verbal stimuli
  3. decreased response to visual stimuli
  4. inability to close eyelids
  5. drooping of the nasolabial fold (the skin fold that runs from the corner of the nose to the mouth, ie, "smile lines")
  6. neck hyperextension
  7. grunting of vocal cords
  8. upper gastrointestinal bleeding
"Knowing when death is imminent would provide more information so caregivers can plan appropriately," explains Hui—for instance, remaining in the hospital overnight so as not to miss a loved one's passing. From a clinical standpoint, "time and resources" can be conserved by, for instance, ending daily blood tests, reports Medical News Today. The researchers next plan to review whether the results hold in settings other than cancer centers, such as home hospice, notes ecancernews. (A recent UK cancer study came to a staggering conclusion.)
 

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