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Attitudes to home artificial nutrition (HAN) in cancer vary greatly from country to country. A 6-year prospective survey of the practice of HAN in advanced cancer patients applied by a hospital-at-home programme in an Italian health district was performed to estimate the utilization rate, to evaluate efficacy in preventing death from cachexia, maintaining patients at home without burdens and distress and improving patients' performance status, and to obtain information about costs. Patients were eligible for HAN when all the following were present: hypophagia; life expectancy 6 weeks or more, suitable patient and family circumstances; and verbal informed consent. From July 1990 to June 1996, 587 patients were evaluated; 164 were selected for HAN (135 enteral and 29 parenteral) and were followed until 31 December 1996. The incidence of HAN per million inhabitants was 18.4 in the first year of activity and 33.2-36.9 in subsequent years, being 4-10 times greater than rates reported by the Italian HAN registers. On 31 December 1996, 158 patients had died because of the disease and 6 were on treatment. Mean survival was 17.2 weeks for those on enteral nutrition and 12.2 weeks for those on parenteral nutrition. Prediction of survival was 72% accurate. 95 patients had undergone 155 readmissions to hospital, where they spent 15-23% of their survival time. Burdens due to HAN were well accepted by 124 patients, an annoyance or scarcely tolerable in the remainder. The frequency of major complications of parenteral nutrition was 0.67 per year for catheter sepsis and 0.16 per year for deep vein thrombosis. Karnofsky performance score increased in only 13 patients and body weight increased in 43. The fixed direct costs per patient-day (in European Currency Units) were 14.2 for the nutrition team, 18.2 for enteral nutrition and 61 for parenteral nutrition. The results indicate that definite entry criteria and local surveys are required for the correct use of HAN in advanced cancer patients, that HAN can be applied without causing additional burdens and distress, and that its costs are not higher than hospital costs.