Cancer treatment news update: Chemotherapy does not improve quality of life of terminal cancer patients - study

A closeup of a chemotherapy IV in a patient's hand.Wikimedia Commons/Linda Bartlett

Many end-stage cancer patients are usually given chemotherapy as a way to improve their quality of living. However, a new study says otherwise and even added that chemotherapy would worsen for those who are just doing well.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Oncology last July 23, involved 661 patients who have progressive metastatic cancer, as reported in WebMD.

Half of these patients received chemotherapy for improvement of symptoms. The researchers found that the treatment did not improve the patients' quality of life and there was no significant benefit to their survival.

"Oncologists may presume there to be no harm in giving dying patients chemotherapy, but these data point to more harm than benefit," said Dr. Holly Prigerson of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, one of the authors of the study.

Prigerson said that the therapy is of "questionable benefit" to the quality of life of patients during their final weeks.

Prigerson and the team suggested that the current American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) guidelines for chemotherapy in terminal cancer patients need revision to acknowledge that chemotherapy for progressive metastatic cancer can be harmful to patients, Medical News Today reported.

However, Drs. Charles Blanke and Erik Fromme from Oregon Health and Science University said in an editorial that it may be too soon to suggest revision of ASCO guidelines.

Blanke and Fromme wrote that it would be inappropriate to change the guidelines if there is no "irrefutable data" that defines who might benefit from the treatment. They added that if, however, an oncologist anticipates patient's death in the next six months, the standard should be to not give any active treatment.

Blanke and Fromme added that oncologists who have very good reason to give chemotherapy in such a situation should only give the treatment if there is proper documentation of "a conversation discussing prognosis, goals, fears, and acceptable trade-offs with the patient and family."