Advanced cancer patients’ reported wishes at the end of life: a randomized controlled trial



Conversations about end-of-life (EOL) wishes are challenging for many clinicians. The Go Wish card game (GWG) was developed to facilitate these conversations. Little is known about the type and consistency of EOL wishes using the GWG in advanced cancer patients.


We conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess the EOL wishes of 100 patients with advanced cancer treated at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The purpose of this study was to determine the EOL wishes of patients with advanced cancer and to compare patients’ preference between the GWG and List of wishes/statements (LOS) containing the same number of items. Patients were randomized into four groups and completed either the GWG or a checklist of 35 LOS and one opened statement found on the GWG cards; patients were asked to categorize these wishes as very, somewhat, or not important. After 4–24 h, the patients were asked to complete the same or other test. Group A (n = 25) received LOS-LOS, group B (n = 25) received GWG-GWG, group C (n = 26) received GWG-LOS, and group D (n = 24) received LOS-GWG. All patients completed the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) for adults before and after the first test.


Median age (interquartile range = IQR): 56 (27–83) years. Age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, religion, education, and cancer diagnosis did not differ significantly among the four groups. All patients were able to complete the GWG and/or LOS. The ten most common wishes identified as very important by patients in the first and second test were to be at peace with God (74 vs. 71 %); to pray (62 vs. 61 %); and to have family present (57 vs. 61 %). to be free from pain (54 vs. 60 %); not being a burden to my family (48 vs. 49 %); to trust my doctor (44 vs. 45 %); to keep my sense of humor (41 vs. 45 %); to say goodbye to important people in my life (41 vs. 37 %); to have my family prepared for my death (40 vs. 49 %); and to be able to help others (36 vs. 31 %). There was significant association among the frequency of responses of the study groups. Of the 50 patients exposed to both tests, 43 (86 %) agreed that the GWG instructions were clear, 45 (90 %) agreed that the GWG was easy to understand, 31 (62 %) preferred the GWG, 39 (78 %) agreed that the GWG did not increase their anxiety and 31 (62 %) agreed that having conversations about EOL priorities was beneficial. The median STAI score after GWG was 48 (interquartile range, 39–59) vs. 47 (interquartile range, 27–63) after LOS (p = 0.2952).


Patients with advanced cancer assigned high importance to spirituality and the presence/relationships of family, and these wishes were consistent over the two tests. The GWG did not worsen anxiety.

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The list of goals and values on the cards, the game instructions, and information for ordering the cards are available on the Coda Alliance website:

Dr. E. Bruera is supported in part by the National Institutes of Health grants R01NR010162-01A1, R01CA122292-01, and R01CA124481-01.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marvin O. Delgado-Guay.

Ethics declarations

Our randomized controlled trial was approved by the Institutional Review Board of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and written informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Conflict of interest

The authors have declared no conflicts of interest.

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Delgado-Guay, M.O., Rodriguez-Nunez, A., De la Cruz, V. et al. Advanced cancer patients’ reported wishes at the end of life: a randomized controlled trial. Support Care Cancer 24, 4273–4281 (2016).

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  • Wishes at end of life
  • Advanced cancer
  • Communication