Palliative Care at Diagnosis Improves Lung Cancer Survival

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Palliative care is a term often associated with hospice and end-of-life care, however, providing comfort to patients with a serious illness is not limited to hospice patients and can provide significant benefits to those who are in active treatment for conditions such as cancer. A new study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, has found that palliative care led to an increase in survival in patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Palliative Care Improves Quality of Life and Survival Rate

Palliative care is a medical specialty focused on improving the quality of life for patients and families facing serious illness. Emphasis is placed on intensive communication, pain and symptom management, and the coordination of care. Examples include pain medication, counseling, and exercise.

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Dr. Jennifer Temel and a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston studied 151 patients with NSCLC, which is the most common type of lung cancer. Patients were randomly assigned to receive palliative care in addition to standard oncologic care, such as chemotherapy and radiation, or standard care alone.

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The patients receiving palliative care reported a significantly better quality of life and about half the rate of depression than those who received only standard care. Their median survival rate was also longer – 11.6 months versus 8.9 months in the standard-care group.

"There is a great deal of data in the literature supporting the premise that patients with a better quality of life live longer than patients with [a worse] quality of life or depression, so we believe that the improvements [seen in this study] certainly contributed to the survival benefit," said Dr. Temel.

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“This study shows the effect of palliative care when it is provided throughout the continuum of care for advanced lung cancer, says the authors. “Early integration of palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer is a clinically meaningful and feasible care model” and “offer great promise for alleviating distress in patients with metastatic disease and addressing critical concerns regarding the use of health care services at the end of life,” they conclude.

N Engl J Med. 2010;363;733-742, 781-782.

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