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Cancer strategy: Easing the burden

The Boston Globe, August 19, 2010

By the time doctors diagnosed Jim Windhorst with lung cancer, the disease was already on the march, gnawing through vertebrae and ribs. He got the standard treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, but was also offered something less conventional by a nurse-practitioner at Massachusetts General Hospital. “She said, ‘Here’s a prescription for meditation,’ ’’ Windhorst recalled. The nurse works in the hospital’s palliative care unit, where specialists endeavor to provide comfort and ease pain. Many patients — and even some doctors — believe their services are reserved for those near death. Researchers from the Boston hospital are reporting today, however, that patients with advanced lung cancer who started palliative care soon after diagnosis not only suffered less, they lived almost three months longer than patients not provided these services. That longer survival came even though the palliative care patients were less inclined to opt for aggressive end-of-life care. The survival benefit surprised and heartened authors of the study and doctors elsewhere, though they cautioned that the findings need to be replicated at other hospitals.