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Chemo killing up to half of cancer patients in first month

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Some cancer patients are “at substantial risk” of dying within 30 days of starting chemotherapy, say the researchers, and these include older people, those with breast cancer, and those whose drug therapy seeks to reverse the disease.

Rates of death also vary enormously between hospitals across England, say researchers from Public Health England, who tracked 23,228 breast cancer patients and 9,634 patients with lung cancer in 2014 to see if they survived the first 30 days of chemotherapy; deaths during that period would suggest that the chemotherapy, and not the cancer, was responsible.

One of the worst survival rates was recorded at a hospital in Milton Keynes, where 50.9 per cent of lung cancer patients died inside the first 30 days, and 28 per cent of cancer patients at Lancashire Training Hospitals were dying after being given palliative chemotherapy, which is for alleviating symptoms rather than reversing the problem. On average, 8.4 per cent of patients with lung cancer, and 2.4 per cent with breast cancer, are dying within a month of starting treatment.

The most common cause of death was neutropenic sepsis – infection resulting from a low blood count, brought about by the chemotherapy – which typically happened within 11 to 15 days after starting treatment.

(Source: Lancet Oncology, 2016; 17: 1203-16)

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