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How Beneficial Is Palliative Chemo?

March 17, 2014

Tags: cancer, chemotherapy, palliative chemotherapy, patient care, cancer patients

Palliative chemotherapy aims to prolong survival and lessen cancer symptoms, not to treat the disease. Yet many patients in their final months of life do not understand that distinction, or realize what they may face by choosing palliative chemo. And their oncologists often arenít talking with them about what they need to know to make informed decisions.

Terminal patients opting for palliative chemo are more likely to experience negative consequences than those who do not have the therapy, a recent study found. Palliative chemo patients are referred later to hospice care (a week or less before death) and have more invasive procedures in the last week of life. They are also more likely to die in an intensive-care unit and less likely to die at home.

Physicians need to be more effective communicators with cancer patients, especially about terminal prognoses, the limitations of palliative chemo and the patientís own end-of-life wishes. Doctors may need to work harder at that communication than they think, to get past patient or family resistance. Study subjects who received palliative chemo were less likely to: talk with their doctors about the type of care they wanted when dying; sign DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders; or acknowledge that their condition was terminal.

Patients cannot make choices about their care without clearly understanding the state of their health and full information about what options mean.