A recent study has shown that people receiving treatment for serious cancers may harbour false hopes for a full recovery.
Scientists from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found that about 81 per cent of people with advanced colorectal cancer, and 69 per cent of people with advanced lung cancer, believe chemotherapy treatment can cure them.
But after surveying more than 1,200 people with end-stage cancer, study authors found only a small number of people who did not subscribe to the myth of chemotherapy as a cure-all.
The study revealed that chemotherapy can give a person with advanced cancer a few more weeks or months of life and may offer them some pain relief. But the likelihood of long-term survival – let alone a cure-in the later stages of these diseases – is exceedingly rare. According to figures from the American Cancer Society, only about six per cent of people with late-stage colon or rectal cancer live for at least five more years. For lung cancer, that number is about four per cent.
According to experts, chemotherapy is not always ineffective – it can be an extremely helpful treatment. When a person’s cancer is caught in the earlier stages, chemotherapy often succeeds in sending the disease into remission.
Optimism can be a valuable tool for coping with a difficult diagnosis, but misplaced faith in the power of medical intervention may prevent people from choosing the treatment path that is best for them.
Chemotherapy is just one of several different types of cancer treatment. Other options include: surgery to remove malignant organs and tissues, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hyperthermia and alternative therapies. Those with terminal cancer may also decide to forgo additional treatment for their condition, and elect to only receive palliative or hospice care.
In an editorial accompanying the Dana Farber study, Thomas Smith, professor of Oncology and director of Palliative Medicine at Johns Hopkins, expressed concern that doctors often shy away from discussions about end-of-life planning and palliative care because doing so could steal a patient’s hope.
“What they don’t realise is that hope is impossible to extinguish,” he says. Smith feels that, no matter what the prognosis is, “Palliative care discussions can help patients focus on better quality of life.”