It’s devastating for doctors to tell their cancer patients that they only have a couple of months to live. But treatment protocols recommend chemotherapy even for these patients. The question is, whether they actually benefit enough to justify the side effects of this aggressive course of treatment. A recent study published in JAMA Oncology has investigated how agonizing patient’s choices in relation to end-stage cancer chemotherapy.
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College decided to investigate the effects that chemotherapy had on a group of 312 terminal cancer patients who had all received the news that they had no more than 6 months to live. The scientists noted that all these patients had failed at least one of the courses of chemotherapy they were on. But regardless of how ineffective the treatment had been for them, half of the study participants were on chemo during the course of the study.
What the study suggests is that the therapy may end up further altering a patient’s quality of life, leaving them debilitated and weak during the final weeks of their lives.
“Chemotherapy is supposed to either help people live better or help them live longer, and this study showed that chemotherapy did neither,” Dr. Charles Blanke, medical oncologist, explains.
Oncologists are trained to treat their patients and they inherently believe that no treatment is worse than any treatment, however, evidence suggests that chemotherapy worsens a patient’s condition. The patients included in the study experienced significant drops in their quality of life when receiving chemotherapy.
And the worst part, Hoy Prigerson, lead study author explains, is the fact that the patients who had started out feeling the best and underwent another course of chemotherapy ended up feeling the worst.
Of course, amounting scientific literature has already suggested that palliative chemotherapy fails at improving a terminal cancer patient’s odds and is mostly ineffective. That’s why Prigerson and her colleagues plan to continue investigating the matter in order to understand how the decisions to undergo treatment are made.
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