A new study suggests that chemotherapy can be harmful when administered to patients with advanced terminal cancer. Doctors are now being urged to be more careful when utilizing the common treatment.
Great Britain’s Department of Health, in a review held recently, discovered that patients with terminal cancers were assured they would have access to chemotherapy medications that may offer them additional months or years of life.
However, a new study by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death has found that 27% of deaths of seriously ill cancer patients were either hastened or directly caused by the use of such chemotherapy treatment. The NCEPOD reviewed 600 cases in this study of patients who died within thirty days after receiving chemotherapy treatment.
The level of care patients received was also reviewed in the study and it was found that in 35% of cases care was deemed to be good, while in over 50 % of cases the care level was judged to be in need of improvement or below an acceptable level.
Of the patients treated in this study many were too ill to be able to make an informed decision regarding treatment and one-fifth of patients were psychically unable to decide on their own.
Co-author of the report, Mark Lansdowne explained that most patients suffer some degree of side effects from chemotherapy treatment but death from the treatment is unusual.
“The majority of patients in this study were receiving palliative treatment where the aim is to alleviate symptoms of cancer with the minimum of side effects,” which represented a small proportion (2 per cent) of all patients receiving the treatment, he said. “Yet 43 per cent of all patients in the study suffered significant treatment-related toxicity.”
The number of deaths directly linked to the treatment “is of particular concern for the 14 per cent of patients for whom [it] was intended to cure them of their cancer,” he added.
Professor Mike Richards, the Government’s national cancer director stated he was “very concerned” with regards to the finding in this study.
A response from the National Chemotherapy Advisory group is forthcoming, “to bring about a step change in the quality and safety of chemotherapy services for adult patients,” he added. “I am asking all chemotherapy service providers to consider these reports urgently and to reassess their own services immediately against the measures we have set nationally.”