Article Abstract

Patients’ perceptions of palliative surgical procedures: a qualitative analysis

Authors: Trevor D. Hamilton, Debbie Selby, Melanie E. Tsang, Audrey Kim, Frances C. Wright


Background: Patients with incurable malignancies can require surgical intervention. We prospectively evaluated patients treated with palliative surgery to qualitatively assess peri-operative outcomes.
Methods: Eligible patients were assessed at a tertiary care cancer center. Demographic information and peri-operative morbidity and mortality were collected. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were obtained pre-operatively and post-operatively (1 month). Qualitative evaluation was performed using content analysis and an inductive approach.
Results: Twenty-eight patients were approached and 20 consented to interview. Data saturation was achieved after 14 patients. Median patient age was 58% and 56% were female. Peri-operative morbidity and mortality were 44% and 22%, respectively. “No other option” was seen as a dominant pre-operative theme (14 of 18). Other pre-operative themes included a “poor understanding of prognosis and the role of surgery in overall treatment plan”. Post-operative themes included a “perceived benefit from surgery” and “satisfaction with decision-making”, notwithstanding significant complications. Improved understanding of prognosis and the role of surgery were described post-operatively.
Conclusions: Despite limited options and a poor understanding of prognosis, many patients perceived benefit from palliative surgery. However, peri-operative mortality was substantial. A robust and thorough patient-centered discussion about individual goals for surgery should be undertaken by surgeon, patient and family prior to embarking on a palliative operation.