Chemotherapy can improve the quality of life of people with incurable cancer if it is administered with the understanding that, although the disease will not be eradicated, the patient can be made to feel better, said an oncologist at Stanford University Medical Center.
"Certain patients with terminal cancer or with only a slight chance of cure may still be helped by anticancer treatment, because the treatment may improve their quality of life if they are experiencing or are expected to have advanced cancer symptoms soon," said Dr. Robert Carlson, professor of medicine at Stanford. "This is especially true if chemotherapy sessions are brief and scheduled so as to avoid producing side effects at a time when the patient feels symptom-free."
"While patients with advanced cancer may not live longer after chemotherapy than they would have otherwise, weve found that the chemotherapy can sometimes help shrink pain-producing tumors or relieve discomfort in other ways when used in conjunction with more traditional forms of palliative treatment, such as analgesic or narcotic painkillers," he added.
Need for Realistic Expectations
When to embark on a course of palliative chemotherapy and, more particularly, which forms of cancer are most conducive to this sort of nonaggressive treatment, should be a decision reached by patients, their families, and their cancer specialists, said Dr. Carlson.
"Its important when chemotherapy is given as a palliative treatment that the patient and physician have honest, realistic expectations of what the treatment will accomplish," he continued. "In no case should false expectations be raised by presenting this form of therapy as a cure."