Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lung cancer patients live longer with hospice care than aggressive treatment

A new study shows advanced lung cancer patients lived nearly
a year compared to less than 9 months for those given aggres-
sive therapy. (Photo courtesy of UNAIDS)
BOSTON – Cancer Digest – Patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer who received palliative care lived, on average, almost two months longer than those who received standard care, researchers say.

Led by Dr. Jennifer S. Temel, of the Massachusetts General Hospital, the researchers also found that the patients receiving palliative care reported a higher quality of life through the final course of their illness.

"With earlier referral to a hospice program, patients may receive care that results in better management of symptoms," wrote the study authors, “leading to stabilization of their condition and prolonged survival.” The study appears in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Palliative care refers to treatment aimed at improving the quality of life when there is no chance for cure and recovery. The care also aims to support the patient and family during and after treatment. This new study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that many patients live longer with hospice and palliative care.

A 2007 study that looked at Medicare beneficiaries with some of the most common diagnoses leading to death, found that patients who received hospice services lived on average, 29 days longer than those who did not receive hospice care.

In the current study, researchers randomly assigned 151 patients to either standard treatments for advanced lung cancer or to palliative care. When they analyzed the 107 patients who completed the assessments, they found that only 33 percent of patients in the early palliative care group received aggressive end-of-life care compared to 54 percent of those in the standard care group. Despite receiving less aggressive treatment median survival was 11.6 months among patients in the early palliative care compared to 8.9 months, for the aggressive therapy group.

"There's an inaccurate perception among the American public that hospice means you've given up," said J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. "Those of us who have worked in the field have seen firsthand how hospice and palliative care can improve the quality of and indeed prolong the lives of people receiving care."
NHPCO encourages all families who are diagnosed with a serious illness to ask their healthcare providers about hospice and palliative care services.

"The time to learn about these services is before a person is in a medical crisis. Patients and families must learn about these options of care as soon as possible," Schumacher added.

More information about hospice and palliative care is available online at or by calling the HelpLine at 800-658-8898.

SOURCE: adapted from press materials provided by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization about “Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer” N Engl J Med 2010; 363:733-742 Aug. 19, 2010.

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