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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(7):1390-1392

Clinical Question: In patients with cancer, can “death take a holiday”?

Setting: Population-based

Study Design: Cohort (retrospective)

Synopsis: Many believe that patients dying of cancer and other chronic illnesses can temporarily postpone their death to survive a major holiday or significant personal event. Investigators analyzed death certificate data from all patients who died in the state of Ohio from 1989 through 2000, including 309,221 patients for whom cancer was listed as the leading cause of death. The proportion of patients who died of cancer in the week before Christmas, Thanksgiving, and their birthday was not significantly different from the proportion who died in the week after the event. In a subgroup analysis, blacks were more likely to die from cancer-related causes in the week before Thanksgiving, and women were more likely to die in the week before their birthday. No significant increase in death from cancer-related causes occurred in any of the subgroups in the week following the significant event.

Bottom Line: Patients with cancer are equally likely to die in the week before or after a significant holiday or personal event. This study found no evidence to support the common belief that patients can temporarily postpone death to survive a holiday or other meaningful event. (Level of Evidence: 1b)

POEMs (patient-oriented evidence that matters) are provided by Essential Evidence Plus, a point-of-care clinical decision support system published by Wiley-Blackwell. For more information, see http://www.essentialevidenceplus.com. Copyright Wiley-Blackwell. Used with permission.

For definitions of levels of evidence used in POEMs, see http://www.essentialevidenceplus.com/product/ebm_loe.cfm?show=oxford.

To subscribe to a free podcast of these and other POEMs that appear in AFP, search in iTunes for “POEM of the Week” or go to http://goo.gl/3niWXb.

This series is coordinated by Sumi Sexton, MD, editor-in-chief.

A collection of POEMs published in AFP is available at https://www.aafp.org/afp/poems.

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Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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