Associations between palliative chemotherapy and adult cancer patients’ end of life care and place of death: prospective cohort study
By Alexi A Wright, Baohui Zhang, Nancy L Keating, Jane C Weeks, Holly G Prigerson
BMJ, March 4, 2014
The use of chemotherapy in terminally ill cancer patients in the last months of life was associated with an increased risk of undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation or both and of dying in an intensive care unit. Future research should determine the mechanisms by which palliative chemotherapy affects end of life outcomes and patients’ attainment of their goals.
Bayer HealthCare and Onyx Pharmaceuticals
Nexavar is now indicated for the treatment of patients with locally recurrent or metastatic, progressive, differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) that is refractory to radioactive iodine treatment.
Median progression-free survival
10.8 months Nexavar
5.8 months Placebo
Number of deaths
32% (66) Nexavar
34% (72) Placebo
Important safety considerations:
Most common adverse reactions reported for NEXAVAR-treated patients vs placebo-treated patients in DTC, respectively, were: Palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia syndrome (PPES) (69% vs 8%), diarrhea (68% vs 15%), alopecia (67% vs 8%), weight loss (49% vs 14%), fatigue (41% vs 20%), hypertension (41% vs 12%), rash (35% vs 7%), decreased appetite (30% vs 5%), stomatitis (24% vs 3%), nausea (21% vs 12%), pruritus (20% vs 11%), and abdominal pain (20% vs 7%). Grade 3/4 adverse reactions were 65% vs 30%
(15 other important safety considerations are listed – available at the link)
Oncology “Top Five” List Identifies Opportunities to Improve Quality and Value in Cancer Care
American Society of Clinical Oncology, April 3, 2012
The Oncology Top Five List
1. For patients with advanced solid-tumor cancers who are unlikely to benefit, do not provide unnecessary anticancer therapy, such as chemotherapy, but instead focus on symptom relief and palliative care.
For those whose lives are dedicated to the science and art of healing, this discussion on cancer chemotherapy at the end of life is one that we shouldn’t have to have. But apparently we do need to discuss it.
The new study on this topic published by BMJ confirms what we already knew. Those patients who receive often futile chemotherapy late in the course of their malignancies seemed to be programmed for a course that increases the risk of being subjected to CPR, to being placed on a ventilator, and to dying in an intensive care unit. Most in their rational moments would prefer the more humane approach of hospice care in their final days. Yet the fact that this study was done is further evidence that mostly inappropriate, aggressive, and quality-of-life reducing interventions are still being pursued.
Nexavar is a $96,000 cancer chemotherapeutic agent that was recently approved for certain progressive thyroid carcinomas. It had been previously approved for selected cases of liver and kidney cancer, though NICE (UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) did not recommend it since “available evidence does not indicate that it delays symptom progression or improves quality of life.” Regular readers may recall that Marijn Dekkers, Chairman of Bayer, said that this product was not developed for poor people in the Indian market but rather for Western patients who could afford it.
What is the evidence for its use in “locally recurrent or metastatic, progressive, differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) that is refractory to radioactive iodine treatment”? Simply stated, when radiologists followed the tumors by measuring them, there was no progression for six months for those given a placebo, whereas those receiving Nexavar did not demonstrate progression until eleven months. This is a demonstration that successfully treating a test, but not the patient, is considered by some to be of therapeutic value.
But what about the overall death rates? They were the same with Nexavar and placebo. Okay, what about the quality of life? Looking at the list above, the incidence of several miserable side effects was much greater in the Nexavar treated group than it was in the placebo group. They experienced poorer quality of life and did not postpone death. If you extend the findings described in the article in this week’s BMJ, by being treated with palliative chemotherapy, they had greater odds of being subjected to CPR, to being place on a ventilator, and to dying in an intensive care unit rather than in hospice.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology certainly recognizes what is happening here. As one of the top five opportunities to improve quality and value in cancer care, they recommend that “for patients with advanced solid-tumor cancers who are unlikely to benefit, do not provide unnecessary anticancer therapy, such as chemotherapy, but instead focus on symptom relief and palliative care.”
We desperately need NICE care in the United States. We would have that under a well designed single payer national health program.
An extra: Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly (Imagine the oncologist “singing my life with his words”) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1eOsMc2Fgg