Examining constipation assessment and management of patients with advanced cancer receiving specialist palliative care: A multi-site retrospective case note review of clinical practice

Sonja J McIlfatrick, Deborah Muldrew, Esther Ruth Beck, Emma Carduff, Mike Clarke, Anne Finucane, Lisa Graham-Wisener, Philip J Larkin, Noleen McCorry, Paul F Slater, F. Hasson

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10 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Constipation is a common symptom for patients receiving palliative care. Whilst international clinical guidelines are available on the clinical management of constipation for people with advanced cancer receiving specialist palliative care (SPC), the extent to which the guidelines are implemented in practice is unclear. This study aimed to examine clinical practices for the assessment and management of constipation for patients with advanced cancer within inpatient SPC settings.
Methods: A multi-site retrospective case-note review was conducted, consisting of 150 patient case-notes from three inpatient SPC units across the United Kingdom between August 2016 and May 2017. The variables selected for review were determined by the recommendations within the clinical guidelines. Descriptive statistics, cross tabulation, chi square, and bivariate correlations were used to examine clinical practices compared to policy guidelines for the assessment and management of constipation. Reporting was structured by the STROBE checklist for observational research (Additional File 2).
Results: A comprehensive assessment, including a full history and performing a physical exam, was recorded for 109 patients (73%), however, no standardised documentation was utilised. Assessment was nurse led, with variable involvement across sites of other members of the multidisciplinary team (MDT). Education on prevention was documented in 30 (20%) case-notes, and 53% recorded evidence of non-pharmacological intervention. Age, gender, and reason for admission did not impact on the likelihood of receiving a comprehensive assessment, education, or non-pharmacological intervention, however, significant differences were evident between sites. Pharmacological management was well developed and aligned to the guidelines however, 33% of patient case-notes recorded no information on the titration of laxatives. Twelve percent of patients experienced partial or complete bowel obstruction, and management strategies were variable.
Conclusions: Constipation management is driven by a pharmacological approach, with little evidence of the implementation of preventative and non-pharmacological strategies. The nurse plays a key coordinating role in assessment; however, involvement and roles of the wider MDT varies. Accurate recording of care is essential when examining clinical practice and identifying areas for improvement. Further education is needed to equip HCPs with the knowledge and skills to ensure consistency in assessment and implementation of appropriate non-pharmacological/ preventative strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number57
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Jul 2019


  • Constipation
  • Symptom Management
  • Palliative Care
  • Hospice
  • Specialist Palliative Care
  • Chart Review
  • Symptom management
  • Chart review
  • Palliative care
  • Hospice: specialist palliative care


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