Palliative Care Extends Life of Patients with Lung Cancer

Investigators have found that patients with terminal lung cancer began receiving palliative care immediately at the time of diagnosis  were happier, more mobile,  in less pain as the end-of-life and ALSO:  lived nearly three months longer than those who did not receive palliative care.

The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and contrasts with the rhetoric about ‘death panels’ that surfaced during the debate on the Obama  Administration’s health care bill, thus casting doubt on the decision to strike end-of-life provisions from the health care overhaul passed last year.

In the three-year study performed at the Massachusetts General Hospital, 151 patients with advanced lung cancer were randomly assigned to get either oncology treatment alone or oncology treatment with palliative care — pain relief and other measures intended to improve a patient’s quality of life. They were followed until the end of 2009, by which time about 70 percent were dead.  Those getting palliative care from the start reported less depression and happier lives as measured on scales for pain, nausea, mobility, worry and other problems. Moreover, even though substantially fewer of them opted for aggressive chemotherapy as their illnesses worsened and many more chose to forgo cardiopulmonary resuscitation,  they  lived almost three months longer than the group getting standard care, who lived a median of nine months.

Palliative care is traditionally seen as an intervention only for those in their last weeks of life.  But, contrary to this opinion, the institution of palliative care makes sense from the beginning of an illness.

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