Posted on Mar 20, 2014

Most physicians suggest that their patients go through expensive chemotherapy, especially during their last months of life. But is this the best route for them?

Reuters reports on cancer patients and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is known as aggressive, painful, nauseating and expensive. But many physicians still recommend it to their patients. Is this the right course? A new study shows that it may not be the best option.

Researchers compared the plight of terminally ill cancer patients who did not go through chemotherapy with those that did. Results showed that those who elected not to face chemotherapy in their last few months lived longer and were happier.

“For the study, the researchers reanalyzed existing data from eight outpatient cancer treatment clinics. Among 386 terminally ill cancer patients, 216 were receiving palliative chemotherapy when the study began. Those receiving chemo survived about as long - four months, on average - as those who were not. But the circumstances of their deaths were often different. Fourteen percent of patients on chemotherapy had CPR or were put on a mechanical ventilator, or both, in their last week of life. That compared to two percent of people not on chemo. Chemo users were more often referred to hospice at the last minute: 54 percent were enrolled within one week of their death, versus 37 percent of people not on chemo. And 11 percent of chemo patients died in an intensive care unit (ICU), rather than at home, for instance, compared again to two percent of those not on chemotherapy, the researchers reported in the British medical journal BMJ,” according to Reuters.  

One expert told Reuters, “Palliative chemotherapy often only makes patients sicker. This study arose from a bet I had with an oncology fellow who had argued the benefits of palliative chemotherapy for the dying patient. I was skeptical. Those who received palliative chemotherapy, even after adjustment for their better health and quality of life and treatment preferences at our baseline assessment, were worse off. My oncologist colleague was surprised because she was certain chemotherapy would be beneficial."


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