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Palliative Care for Cancer Patients Prolongs Life, Study Finds

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 20, 2010

Far from giving up on life, critically ill patients who were randomly assigned to receive early palliative care had less depression, and lived significantly longer than those assigned to receive standard care.

That's the finding of a clinical trial published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.  Researchers found that among patients with end-stage metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, early palliative care also led to significant improvements in quality of life compared to patients who received standard care.

They also were more likely to have specified their end-of-life resuscitation preferences, which led to less aggressive care at the end very end of life, reduced chemotherapy, and longer hospice care.

"Given the trends toward aggressive and costly care near the end of life among patients with cancer, timely introduction of palliative care may serve to mitigate unnecessary and burdensome personal and societal costs," the authors concluded.

The 12-week trial was conducted by Jennifer S. Temel, MD, a lung cancer specialist and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center and Yale University, and took place at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Of the 151 patients enrolled, 107 completed the trial. Patients assigned to early palliative care were found to have a better quality of life than patients assigned to standard care. And, despite the fact that fewer patients in the early palliative group received aggressive care at the end of life, (33% versus 54%), those in the early palliative group lived more than two months longer (11.6 months vs. 8.9 months).

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