8 ‘Tell-Tale’ Signs Associated With Impending Death In Patients With Advanced Cancer

Originally published on Forbes in February 2015.

Being able to diagnose death within several days of it happening can assist cancer patients and their families with making end-of-life care decisions. A new study seeks to help with the process by providing physicians with a list of indications to consider when evaluating a patient for impending death.

The research, released by the American Cancer Society, revealed eight bedside physical “tell-tale” signs associated with death within three days in cancer patients: non-reactive pupils, decreased response to verbal stimuli, decreased response to visual stimuli, inability to close eyelids, drooping of the nasolabial fold, hyperextension of the neck, grunting of vocal cords and upper gastrointestinal bleed.

The study analyzed the physical changes in the final days of life in 357 cancer patients who were admitted to acute palliative care units in two cancer centers: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Barretos Cancer Hospital in Brazil. The researchers documented 52 physical signs every 12 hours from admission to death or discharge. A little more than the majority of the patients died during the study.

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