Chemotherapy refers to the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer. This involves delivery of potent chemicals into the body to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Side effects of chemotherapy can include weakness, nausea, fatigue, confusion and hair loss. A new US study has revealed that giving chemotherapy to people with terminal cancer and who are near the end of their lives is likely to cause more harm than good. The study findings suggested that guidelines regarding chemotherapy use in patients with terminal cancer may need to be revised to recognize the potential harm of chemotherapy use in patients with progressive metastatic disease.
For the study, the researchers studied a group of more than 300 patients with metastatic cancer, meaning their tumors had spread from the initial site in the body to other organs, and had become incurable. Most of the study subjects were men and their average age was 59 years, and they had about four months to live, on average. The aim of the study was to examine how chemotherapy affected quality of life when the patients were near the end of their lives, particularly regarding their ability to walk, do work, and take care of their basic needs.
Based on caregivers' assessments of the patients' physical and mental distress in their final week of life, the researchers found that chemotherapy did not improve quality of life for patients who already had limited mobility. And for patients who were still able to perform basic life functions, chemotherapy made their quality of life worse.
The study lead Holly Prigerson of Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital said, "Not only did chemotherapy not benefit patients regardless of performance status, it appeared most harmful to those patients with good performance status."
The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Oncology