, Volume 14, Issue 10, pp 999-1011
Date: 18 May 2006

Prognostic factors in patients with recently diagnosed incurable cancer: a systematic review

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Goals of work

To review the literature and develop a conceptual framework about prognostic factors for people presenting to medical oncologists with recently diagnosed incurable cancer.

Materials and methods

Medline was searched from January 2000 to October 2003 to identify articles testing associations between clinical or laboratory variables and survival time in adults with advanced solid tumours and median survival of 3 to 24 months. We recorded how frequently prognostic factors were significantly associated with survival in univariable and multivariable analyses.


There were 53 studies included. The factors associated with survival were organised into four categories related to attributes of the host the tumour, the treatment and the interactions between host, tumour and treatment (symptoms, quality of life, performance status and laboratory tests). Co-morbidity was consistently associated with shorter survival. Age and gender were not consistently associated with survival duration, except in lung cancer where females survived longer. Tumour-related factors associated with shorter survival included primary tumour (lung), metastatic site (liver, brain and visceral) and disease extent. Symptoms associated with shorter survival included those of the anorexia–cachexia syndrome, dyspnoea, pain and impaired physical well being. Performance status was strongly associated with survival in most studies. Laboratory tests associated with shorter survival included anaemia, thrombocytopenia, hypoalbuminaemia and elevated serum levels of both alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase.


Prognostic factors in patients with advanced cancer can be conceptualised as attributes of the host, tumour, treatment and interactions between the three reflected in symptoms, quality of life performance status and laboratory tests.