Why Undergo Chemotherapy When It Won’t Do Any Good?

Overall, 69 percent of those with stage 4 lung cancer and 81 percent of those with stage 4 colon cancer failed to understand “that chemotherapy was not at all likely to cure their cancer”…

Various drugs, some with limited toxicity, can be used as palliatives, perhaps shrinking tumors temporarily to relieve symptoms, slowing the cancer’s growth and prolonging the lives of some patients.

But aggressive chemotherapy when death is but weeks or months in the offing can seriously compromise the quality of patients’ remaining time and may delay their preparations for the end of life, to the detriment of both patients and their families.

Jane E. Brody from the NYT.

Comments (9)

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  1. Cindy says:

    That’s too bad — although I think the larger problem is “failed to understand.” If doctors are clearer about expectations and guidelines are adjusted to prevent futile chemo as part of end-of-life care, it may help.

    That said, it can be difficult to accept one’s own death or the death of a loved one and no amount of counsel by an experienced physician will convince some people to just cease treatment. These individuals do probably increase HC costs …

  2. Jordan says:

    What’s that old addage? “A man dangling from a cliff will stretch out a hand to his worst enemy.” Chemotherapy?

  3. Danny says:

    Is this a joke? I really enjoy this blog and use it to get my conservative opinion on health care. I rarely comment but from what I’ve seen…NOW people want doctors to be “clearer about expectations” and better end-of-life preparation. This is EXACTLY what Palin cried death panel too and the Republican base flipped their $#%^ about. Regardless, as a physician I wholeheartedly agree and hope the American audience matures and realizes these conversations need to happen and are better for patient’s and their families and the health care system.

  4. Buster says:

    When the end result is death; and the cost is being borne by a third-party, people will grasp at anything to prolong their lives — even if all they’re really prolonging is hope. The fatigue, hair loss and all the negative side effects of chemo are sort of an empty ritual to illustrate to the world and themselves they are fighting cancer and have not given up. Once they’re dead it’s easy to say chemo was a waste of time and caused unnecessary suffering. But to the patient, it was their last hope.

  5. seyyed says:

    yeah-considering that there are some odds that the chemo works it would make sense that people would continue to fight the odds and opt for an aggressive treatment

  6. Studebaker says:

    There was an article in the New York Times awhile back that discussed the war metaphor that has become the terminology people use when discussing cancer. We “battle” cancer. They don’t surrender to cancer. There is something of a conventional wisdom that you fight cancer with anything you can.

  7. Jessica Hender says:

    When you feel you have lost it all, or are the process of losing it all, all you want is to get it all back, or at least enjoy what you have left. For these people, their only hope for a few more weeks/months or even years of life is chemotherapy. Whether this “seriously compromises the quality of patients’ remaining time” or not, it’s ultimately up to them whether they decide to through with this. Unfortunately, this is the only hope some of these people have to live just a little longer.

  8. Timmy says:

    It’d be difficult to turn down treatment if your only hope was chemo. Regardless of the chances, I think it could give people hope.

  9. Afton says:

    Interesting take on peoples perceptions, ignorance, and rationality.