13 April 2010

Many Terminal Cancer Patients May Be Overtreated

Radiation therapy designed to ease pain can go on too long and be ineffective, study finds


This article has not necessarily been edited by Health24.

Monday, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that many patients with terminal cancer don't benefit from getting radiation therapy designed to help them feel better by controlling symptoms like pain.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the online April 12 edition of the journal Cancer, say doctors are failing to properly adjust treatments to meet the needs of these patients. In some cases, they say, the radiation therapy is a product of undue optimism about a patient's chances of survival.

"Radiation oncologists have fallen short in accurately determining the life span of terminally ill cancer patients. This has resulted in unduly prolonged radiation therapy regimens that often go uncompleted due to death or withdrawal from treatment," said study co-author Dr. Stephan Gripp, of the University Hospital Duesseldorf in Germany, in a statement.

Gripp and colleagues tracked 33 patients who were referred for palliative radiotherapy -- designed to help reduce symptoms -- at their hospital from 2003 to 2004. The study only included patients who died within 30 days.

The researchers found that fewer than 60 percent of the patients finished their radiotherapy treatment, and many doctors thought patients would live longer than they actually did.

Only 26 percent of the patients reported reduction in symptoms or pain.

Gripp said doctors should find better ways to estimate lifespan for such patients, and he recommended that they give radiation therapy for a shorter period of time.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more details on radiation treatment.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules