Study helps pancreatic cancer patients make hard choices

August 23, 2012

Every year, nearly 45,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The odds against those stricken by the disease are truly dismal; pancreatic cancer almost always kills within two years after diagnosis, no matter how it is treated. Even aggressive intervention with chemotherapy, radiation or surgery rarely yields more than an extra month to a year of survival, depending on the stage of the disease.

This raises a tough question: should patients who know they are going to die soon spend a substantial amount of what little time they have left undergoing aggressive and difficult treatment—treatment likely to bring them only a brief period of additional life?

"It's about balancing quality and quantity of life, really," said Dr. Casey Boyd, a University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston surgery resident and lead author of a paper analyzing the problem in the current issue of Annals of Surgical Oncology. "For pancreatic cancer we know the quantity of life is short, so maximizing the quality of life is important—and the best way we can do that is to give patients concrete data that they can look at and use in their ."

Boyd and her colleagues approached the issue by drawing on the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database, examining SEER records for 25,476 pancreatic cancer patients and focusing on two factors that directly affect patients' lives: hospital days and days spent in medical care. (Hospital days were days spent as hospital inpatients, while medical care days included days in the hospital as well as other days on which the patient visited a physician, underwent a , or received a treatment).

"This study is the first to bring together hospital and medical care days in pancreatic with stage, treatment and survival, and it gives us a quantitative look at the whole experience of a patient with pancreatic cancer," Boyd said. "We hope that physicians can use the information in this paper to give patients what they need to make critical decisions."

For example, Boyd said, a doctor could draw on the paper to counsel a patient with metastatic —the most common and deadly type. "The physician could say, if you have you may live four to six weeks longer, but a lot of that time you're going to be in the hospital, or getting a test, or getting a needle poked in your arm for your chemotherapy," she said. "Some patients may say, I want that, I want the most life that you can give me."

Others, she noted, might make a different choice if given an accurate picture of the treatment experience.

"They might say, it's not really worth it to me—it's a few extra weeks, but they may be miserable weeks," Boyd said. "They may decide not to have any treatment and maybe just have hospice, or just spend time with their family."

The ability to help patients make such difficult decisions was the main goal of the study, according to Boyd.

"Really, this paper is about empowering the patient," she said. "We want to provide them with the information they need to make their own personalized treatment decisions."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New bowel cancer drug target discovered

October 17, 2017
Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered a new drug target for bowel cancer that is specific to tumour cells and therefore less toxic than conventional therapies.

Many pelvic tumors in women may have common origin—fallopian tubes

October 17, 2017
Most—and possibly all—ovarian cancers start, not in ovaries, but instead in the fallopian tubes attached to them.

Researchers find novel mechanism of resistance to anti-cancer drugs

October 17, 2017
The targeted anti-cancer therapies cetuximab and panitumumab are mainstays of treatment for advanced colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, many patients have tumors ...

Using artificial intelligence to improve early breast cancer detection

October 17, 2017
Every year 40,000 women die from breast cancer in the U.S. alone. When cancers are found early, they can often be cured. Mammograms are the best test available, but they're still imperfect and often result in false positive ...

Biology of childhood brain tumor subtypes offers clues to precision treatments

October 17, 2017
Researchers investigating pediatric low-grade gliomas (PLGG), the most common type of brain tumor in children, have discovered key biological differences in how mutated genes combine with other genes to drive this childhood ...

New assay may boost targeted treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

October 17, 2017
Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is an aggressive cancer and the most frequently diagnosed non-Hodgkin lymphoma worldwide (nearly 40% of cases). Recent advancements indicate that both the prognosis and choice of treatment ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.