Mesothelioma Patients Cautioned on Using Chemo at End

Late-stage mesothelioma patients may need to think very carefully before agreeing to start chemotherapy.

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Weill Cornell Medical College warn in a just-released study that chemotherapy begun after tumors become inoperable may lead to heartbreaking disappointment.

Specifically, cancer patients face increased chances of dying in surroundings not of their choosing or liking if chemotherapy is involved, the study found.

Released March 4 and obtained by, the study probes the psychosocial aspects of treating cancer victims with chemotherapy during the disease’s final push to claim their lives.

Study authors argue that end-of-life cancer patients often consent to chemotherapy without fully appreciating how that decision can negatively impact their last days or weeks.

Chemotherapy in late-stage mesothelioma is frequently recommended as a way to help relieve the agonizing pain of advanced cancer as it surges through the body.

Federally Funded Cancer Study

Funded by federal dollars, the Dana Farber-Weill Cornell researchers spent six years compiling satisfaction surveys and comparing those against medical records drawn from 386 cancer cases.

Some of what they learned includes:

  • 54 percent of late-stage cancer patients on chemotherapy missed the opportunity to begin hospice care at a time when it would have been most beneficial to them.
  • Death in a hospital ICU rather than at home under hospice care was more likely for chemotherapy takers.
  • 80 percent of no-chemotherapy, late-stage cancer patients passed away in a place they desired; only 68 percent of the chemotherapy takers could make the same claim.
  • 65 percent of chemotherapy abstainers were able to pass away at home; the same was true for only 47 percent of chemotherapy takers.

Researchers concluded that cancer treatment centers ought to re-evaluate some of their ideas about who should and should not be seen as a candidate for late-stage chemotherapy.

Not Arguing Against Chemotherapy

It should be pointed out that the study has a shortcoming. Since the patients all eventually passed away, researchers could not finish gathering from them needed satisfaction survey information.

As a result, researchers had to work with an incomplete picture of the patients’ feelings about the quality of life they enjoyed during their final days.

The untimely passage of those patients also meant researchers could not ask them whether their last hopes and wishes had been fulfilled.

Instead, the scientists had to fill in the gaps by relying on second-hand impressions and opinions solicited from relatives and close friends of the deceased.

The researchers stressed that their findings are not an argument against using chemotherapy in a cancer patient’s final days. (Typically, patients become candidates for late-stage chemotherapy when their doctors believe they have fewer than six months to live).

According to the study authors, their findings instead point to a compelling need for doctors and cancer patients to talk more with one another about late-stage chemotherapy.

As one of the researchers put it, patients should have all the facts and be given time to weigh them carefully before consenting to chemotherapy as the fight enters its closing rounds.