Background Palliative care is associated with decreased cost and improved quality of life, although its use in stage IV rectal cancer is understudied. Materials and methods Stage IV rectal cancer patients (2004-2011) who did not undergo surgery with curative intent were identified within the National Cancer Database. Patients receiving palliative therapy were stratified by the type of intervention, as were patients undergoing chemotherapy that was not designated as palliative. Logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with the receipt of palliative therapy. Results A total of 11,245 patients were analyzed, of which 2314 (20.6%) received palliative therapy. Use of palliative therapy as a category of treatments did not change significantly from 2004-2012 (19.4%-23.0%; P = 0.14), but the use of palliative chemotherapy nearly doubled (4.7%-8.7%; P < 0.001). Factors associated with the use of palliative therapy included age >60 y and increasing chronic comorbidities; these subgroups also had lower odds of receiving chemotherapy that was not designated as palliative. Differences in gender and race were not associated with variations in the receipt of palliative therapy. Conclusions For stage IV rectal cancers managed without curative intent, use of palliative therapies remains consistently low, with a preference for sicker patients.
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