It is never an easy decision to stop administering chemotherapy to a loved one, but according to a new study published in JAMA Oncology, giving chemo to those who are at the end of their lives may be causing more harm than good.
A type of chemotherapy typically given to those who are succumbing to the disease is palliative chemotherapy. However, this type of therapy is not aimed at curing, but rather at improving symptoms and extending the patient’s life. As such, the team wanted to figure out just how much good this type of chemo was doing. Unfortunately, the results were less than stellar. According to the Washington Post, for those with terminal cancer who were doing quite well, palliative chemotherapy actually worsened their overall quality of life. Furthermore, it was also shown to have no effect on less-functional patients who were close to the end.
In the study, the team studied 300 patients suffering from terminal or end-stage cancer. In all of them, the tumors had spread throughout their body, and had been unresponsive to at least one round of chemotherapy. Average life expectancy was six months or less. The researchers then looked at the patients daily function level, analyzing such activities as walking, easy work or self-care. Once the person passed, a close family member or caretaker was then asked to rate the patient’s quality of life during their last week on earth. In almost every case with patients who still had the ability to function daily activities, chemo lowered their quality of life in that final week.
This study calls the legitimacy of end-of-life chemotherapy into question, especially because that type of therapy is only to improve the quality of one’s life. It is very hard to stop chemotherapy, since it gives many hope, but it is often the right move when things become especially dire. Often patients will continue the treatment under guilt or pressure, but the team suggests that oncologists need to have conversations with their patients and patient’s families to explain just what damage could be occurring. Even though their time is short, relieving patients of the treatment could go a long way to improving their last days on earth.