Dying at Home Better for Cancer Patients and Families

Cancer patients and their families suffer less when the final days are spent at home. It’s about quality of life.

Dying in a hospital or intensive care unit can cause greater physical and emotional stress for all involved. A study published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and reported by HealthDay News, found that when people died at home, loved ones were less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. The study also showed that even though most cancer patients prefer to stay home, more than one-third die in the hospital and eight percent die in the intensive care unit. Overly aggressive care and treatment is not only traumatic at times, but very costly.

Death is a perfectly natural part of life, but somewhere along the way we’ve developed an unhealthy and sometimes cruel aversion to it. Whether it is cancer or something else, watching a beloved family member endure painful medical interventions is one thing when you have hope of prolonging life in a meaningful way. It’s quite another when all hope is lost.

Hospice and Palliative Care
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, to palliate means “to make comfortable by treating a person’s symptoms from illness. The goals of palliative care are to improve the quality of a seriously ill person’s life and to support that person and their family during and after treatment.” Palliative care may be given at any time during an illness.

Hospice “focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting patients with a life expectancy of months, not years, and their families.”

Advance Directives
Not discussing imminent death only prolongs suffering for the patient and the family, while leaving many personal emotional issues unresolved.

An advance directive is a legal document that allows you clearly state your wishes concerning medical care you would want if you have an illness from which you are unlikely to recover. You can get specific about aggressive treatments, dialysis or breathing machines, resuscitation, tube feeding, and organ or tissue donation.

You can also choose a proxy to make health-related decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. For more information on end-of-life directives, visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Laws about advance directives and living wills vary from state-to-state. To check the laws in your state, visit Caring Connections State Advance Directives.

If you don’t have a written advance directive, make sure your family clearly understands your wishes.

End-of-life-choices have to come from a place of compassion and honesty from all parties. It’s too important to ignore. It’s a discussion we should all be having with our families… and our physicians.

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Jane R.
Jane R7 years ago

Dying at home is not always the best thing for the patient or the family.

Elizabeth J.
uma J7 years ago


jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

People want home familiar surroundings and the people who love them around not a cold sterile facility filled with a bunch of strangers.

Shannon H.
Shannon H7 years ago

I want to die where it is easier on my family. My friend's brother passed away at home from cancer and it was anything but peaceful. I would prefer to die somewhere where the memory won't haunt my family for years afterwards every time they walk in a room. Hospice seems like a good choice and you can still be surrounded by family.

Pamela Lewis Murillo
Past Member 7 years ago

sometimes the patient can't have the proper meds and pain relief at home but we can be with them thru their final days and hours - cancer or any terminal illness is so very sad

Lindsey DTSW
.7 years ago

Actually, Jennifer, people can have differing views on what constitutes a good death. For me, death is a very private thing and I don't believe I would want my family around me at that time. The times I've been in real pain or serious medical distress I always preferred to have paid strangers looking after me since I didn't have to worry about their emotional reaction to my condition - and I could concentrate on my own physical needs and not feel I was imposing on them. But that's my own reaction and I know that other people are going to have differing needs to one degree or another.

Just as we all want different things out of life, there really is no 'one-size-fits-all' preferred mode of dying.

Philippa P.
Philippa P7 years ago

Death at home is always preferable; but, not always possible. My mother passed six months ago and it was impossible to care for her at home. However, we did set up a 24-hour vigil for her so she was never alone.

Jennifer Martin
Jennifer M7 years ago

I don't think anyone really wants to die in a hospital. Don't we all want to be in the comfort of our own homes surrounded by loved ones when it's time to go??

Jenny B.
Jenny B7 years ago

My daughter was adopted by a wonderful family, but a few months later she was diagnosed with an aggresive form of muscle cancer. The family gave her everything she needed, she went into remission but then the cancer came back. When the time came, she had the option of going home to die.
She passed away surrounded by those who loved her :) Personally, I was happy to hear that she was not in a cold, hospital but with her loved ones. She was almost 3 years old.

Melinda M.
Past Member 7 years ago

My mom has had breast cancer twice and melanoma once. She has already told us what she wants and we will respect her wishes.