Too many patients are being given chemotherapy, even when it is clear that the drugs have not been effective and they are near death.
The findings by a team of scientists working for the US National Institutes of Health was made after looking at the billing records of nearly 8000 patients who died of cancer in the state of Massachusetts in 1996. It was found that 41 per cent of the patients received expensive and ineffective chemotherapy in the final year of life,
33 per cent in the final six months and 25 per cent in the final three months.
The findings, say the researchers, "strongly suggest overuse of chemotherapy at the end of life". They also noted a concern "with the quality of end of life care and specifically that patients should not be overtreated with ineffective therapies" at such a time (BMJ, 2001; 322: 1267).