The prospective evaluation of the net effect of red blood cell transfusions in routine provision of palliative care.

Timothy To, Thomas LeBlanc, Peter Eastman, Karen Neoh, Meera Agar, Luen To, Debra Rowett, Zachary Vandersman, David Currow

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    26 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Red Blood Cell (RBC) transfusions are commonly used in palliative care. RBCs are a finite resource, transfusions carry risks, and the net effect (benefits and harms) is poorly defined for people with life-limiting illnesses. Objective: To examine the indications and effects of RBC transfusion in palliative care patients. Design: This international, multisite, prospective consecutive cohort study. Setting/Subjects: Palliative care patients undergoing RBC transfusion. Measurements: Target symptoms (fatigue, breathlessness, generalized weakness, or dizziness) were assessed before transfusion and at day 7 by treating clinicians, using National Cancer Center Institute Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events. Assessment of harms was made at day 2. Results: One hundred and one transfusions with day 7 follow-up were collected. Median age was 72.0 (interquartile range 61.5-83.0) years, 58% men, and mean Australia-modified Karnofsky Performance Status (AKPS) of 48 (standard deviation [SD] 17). A mean 2.1 (SD 0.6) unit was tranfused. The target symptoms were fatigue (61%), breathlessness (16%), generalized weakness (12%), dizziness (6%), or other (5%). Forty-nine percent of transfusions improved the primary target symptom, and 78% of transfusions improved at least one of the target symptoms. Harms were infrequent and mild. An AKPS of 40%-50% was associated with higher chances of symptomatic benefit in the target symptom; however, no other predictors of response were identified. Conclusions: In the largest prospective consecutive case series to date, clinicians generally reported benefit, with minimal harms. Ongoing work is required to define the optimal patient-and clinician-reported hematological and functional outcome measures to optimize the use of donor blood and to minimize transfusion-Associated risk.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1152-1157
    Number of pages6
    JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


    • anemia
    • blood transfusion
    • fatigue
    • palliative care


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