Aggressive Cancer Treatment at End of Life Does Not Extend Survival

Aggressive treatment to terminally ill advanced cancer patients did not increase their lifespan, a recent study found.

Researchers from the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston conducted the study, which appeared in JAMA Oncology. They found no significant differences in the length of survival between those who underwent aggressive treatment at the end of life and those who did not.

The study highlights a need for oncologists to revisit goals-of-care conversations with patients as they near the end of life, including discussions of hospice.


“If there are times when it’s futile to continue care and instead, oncologists should shift focus to palliative and supportive care? Signs points to yes, but that these conversations should be had with the patient,” study author Maureen Canavan, an epidemiologist at the Yale Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy and Effectiveness Research Center, said in a press release.

Researchers evaluated the health records of 78,446 adult cancer patients who were diagnosed with metastatic and advanced tumors of breast, colorectal, non-small cell lung, pancreas, kidney or urothelial cancers. The patient records came from 280 cancer centers nationwide between 2015 and 2019.

“Since we don’t see an improved survival benefit, oncologists should revisit their goals-of-care conversations with patients, and this information in the study should be explained to patients,” Canavan said in the release. “We hope this information can help inform oncologists when they are deciding whether or not to continue treatment, or transition patients who have metastatic disease to supportive care.”


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