Terminally ill cancer patients receiving unnecessary radiation

Many oncologists fail to accuratly predict the remaining lifespan of their terminally ill patients, causing many of the patients to spend their final days receiving unnecessary, and sometimes harmful, radiation treatments, according to a German study published online April 12 by the journal Cancer

Researchers reviewed the cases of 33 terminal cancer patients who died within 30 days of being referred for palliative radiation treatments at University Hospital Dusselfdorf between December 2003 and July 2004. More than half, 52 percent, experienced worsened cancer symptoms after the treatments. Only 26 percent of the patients who received the treatments indicated that their symptoms improved.

Half of the patients who underwent the treatments spent most of their remaining days receiving radiation therapy. 

"The lifespan of cancer patients is overestimated by the doctors in the vast majority of cases," Dr. Stephan Gripp, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health. "Too-optimistic estimates are dangerous for patients as they tempt doctors to apply prolonged irradiation schedules."

The median age for the participants in the study was 65 years of age, while the median survival time was 15 days. 

For more information:
- read the Reuters Health piece