Dying cancer patients given fluids will generally live longer, a new study led by researchers from Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Surrey has found.
End-of-life patients receiving assisted hydration had a 26 per cent greater survival, which meant that they lived for on average one-and-a-half more days, compared to those who were not receiving such treatment.
Over a year more than 200 cancer patients, who were in the last week of their life, took part in the study at four cancer centres and eight hospices across the country.
All of the participants, aged between 28 and 98 years, were unable to maintain sufficient fluid intake on their own and as a result received it either intravenously, administered directly into a vein, or subcutaneously, delivered under the skin.
They were assessed every four hours, with the teams collecting data on clinical problems, interventions and overall survival.
As well as increasing life by an average of one-and-a-half days, patients' receiving fluids were also found to have good symptom control, and to suffer from minimal side effects.
A further study is now planned to continue to evaluate the role that providing fluids plays in end of life care.
Andrew Davies, a consultant in Palliative Medicine at Royal Surrey, said: "The provision of clinically assisted hydration at the end-of-life is one of the most contentious issues in medicine.
"The results of this study are certainly interesting, but a larger study is needed to confirm the role of clinically assisted hydration at the end of life".
"For some patients and their families living an extra day or so may be extremely important, as it can give them an opportunity to say their goodbyes, have family arrive from abroad, write a will or even get married.
"Nevertheless, for other patients, living an extra day or so may be the worst thing possible."
Dr. Agnieszka Michael, Medical Director of the Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Surrey, said: "Hydration of dying patients in palliative care delivers the gift of time however this is not a gift that all patients and their families desire.
"Hydration plays a key role in delaying the dying process, why this is remains unknown. We will be exploring this in further studies and the results from this will help improve quality in end of life care."
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A cluster randomised feasibility trial of clinically assisted hydration in cancer patients in the last days of life. Journal of Palliative Medicine. DOI: 10.1177/0269216317741572