A new study has claimed that upto 50 percent of cancer patients die due to the chemotherapy treatment they receive rather than the disease-cancer itself. Public Health England and Cancer Research UK’s researchers examined the cancer patients who died within 30 days of beginning chemotherapy — indicating the treatment, not the cancer, was the cause of death.
Researchers revealed a worrying mortality rate associated with chemotherapy.
Across “England around 8.4 per cent of patients with lung cancer, and 2.4 per cent of breast cancer patients died within a month,” the Telegraph reported. “But in some hospitals the figure was far higher. In Milton Keynes, the death rate for lung cancer treatment was 50.9 per cent, although it was based on a very small number of patients.”
The one-month mortality rate at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals for those undergoing palliative, rather than curative, chemotherapy for lung cancer was a full 28 percent. One in five breast cancer patients receiving palliative care at Cambridge University Hospitals died from treatment.
In certain areas — Blackpool, Coventry, Derby, South Tyneside, and Surrey and Sussex — deaths of lung cancer patients by chemotherapy were ‘far higher’ than the national average.
Dr. Jem Rashbass, Cancer Lead for Public Health England, said as quoted by the Telegraph, “Chemotherapy is a vital part of cancer treatment and is a large reason behind the improved survival rates over the last four decades. However, it is powerful medication with significant side effects and often getting the balance right on which patients to treat aggressively can be hard. Those hospitals whose death rates are outside the expected range have had the findings shared with them and we have asked them to review their practice and data.”
For the analysis, researchers “included all women with breast cancer and all men and women with lung cancer residing in England, who were 24 years or older and who started a cycle” of chemotherapy in 2014.
“The statistics don’t suggest bad practice overall but there are some outliers,” said Professor David Dodwell of the Institute of Oncology at St. James Hospital in Leeds. “It could be data problems, and figures skewed because of just a few deaths, but nevertheless it could also be down to problems with clinical practice.”
“I think it’s important to make patients aware that there are potentially life threatening downsides to chemotherapy. and doctors should be more careful about who they treat with chemotherapy,” he said.
Professor David Cameron of the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at West General Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, noted, “The concern is that with some of the patients dying within 30 days of being given chemo probably shouldn’t have been given the chemo. But how many? There is no easy way to answer that, but perhaps looking at those places/hospitals where the death rate was higher might help.”