When death is near, do lung cancer patients live longer with chemotherapy or with early palliative care?
Of the three types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer is the most common. Oncologists have been trained to treat it aggressively, including heavy use of chemotherapy. Some researchers decided to test informal conclusions reached earlier that seemed to show that such aggressive use of chemo in the last stages of cancer improved survival.
Unlike previous looks at these alternatives, the current study was carefully designed, and it found conclusively that giving patients early palliative care—i.e., treating only to relieve symptoms rather than trying to cure the disease—along with standard oncology care, but excluding chemotherapy, actually does increase patient survival times. What’s more, it definitively improves quality of life during the last 60 days before death.
A part of that QOL improvement in the study came because, in stopping the aggressive treatment, doctors were not inadvertently leading patients to believe that such treatment might still potentially save their lives. The patients better understood the truth of their situation.
I am glad to hear there is now scientific backing for this quieter end to life. It’s hard enough knowing you’re going to die, but even worse to have to meanwhile suffer the discomforts and indignity of having your body bombarded with and fighting the effects of poisonous chemicals. This is a time when you may want all your strength and clarity of mind to find closure with your loved ones and peace with the end of your life.