DOI: 10.1097/mcc.0000000000001078 ISSN:

Sepsis and acute respiratory failure in patients with cancer: how can we improve care and outcomes even further?

Patrick G. Lyons, Colleen A. McEvoy, Brandon Hayes-Lattin
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine

Purpose of review

Care and outcomes of critically ill patients with cancer have improved over the past decade. This selective review will discuss recent updates in sepsis and acute respiratory failure among patients with cancer, with particular focus on important opportunities to improve outcomes further through attention to phenotyping, predictive analytics, and improved outcome measures.

Recent findings

The prevalence of cancer diagnoses in intensive care units (ICUs) is nontrivial and increasing. Sepsis and acute respiratory failure remain the most common critical illness syndromes affecting these patients, although other complications are also frequent. Recent research in oncologic sepsis has described outcome variation – including ICU, hospital, and 28-day mortality – across different types of cancer (e.g., solid vs. hematologic malignancies) and different sepsis definitions (e.g., Sepsis-3 vs. prior definitions). Research in acute respiratory failure in oncology patients has highlighted continued uncertainty in the value of diagnostic bronchoscopy for some patients and in the optimal respiratory support strategy. For both of these syndromes, specific challenges include multifactorial heterogeneity (e.g. in etiology and/or underlying cancer), delayed recognition of clinical deterioration, and complex outcomes measurement.


Improving outcomes in oncologic critical care requires attention to the heterogeneity of cancer diagnoses, timely recognition and management of critical illness, and defining appropriate ICU outcomes.

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