Palliative care extends life for lung cancer patients

Patients with advanced lung cancer who got early palliative care - treatment focused on pain management and controlling symptoms - lived longer and had better quality of life than those who received aggressive treatment, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine Thursday.

Researchers from Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, and the State University of New York-Buffalo randomly assigned 151 patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer to get either palliative care integrated with standard cancer treatment or standard treatment alone.

The mood and quality of life of the patients was assessed at the start of the study and after 12 weeks. Twenty-seven of the patients died in the first 12 weeks and another 17 failed to complete the second assessment, leaving 107 patients to the full study.

The researchers found that at 12 weeks, patients assigned to palliative care had significantly better quality of life scores (98.0 verses 91.5 on a 136 point scale). Moreover, fewer of the palliative care group developed symptoms of depression (16 percent verses 38 percent in the standard care group).

And the researchers found that despite getting less aggressive end-of-life treatment, the palliative care group lived an average of nearly three months longer than the group that received the oncologic care alone (11.6 months verses 8.9 months).

The researchers concluded that “early palliative care led to significant improvements in both quality of life and mood. As compared with patients receiving standard care, patients receiving early palliative care had less aggressive care at the end of life but longer survival.”

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