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Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life
Clinician's Corner
June 11, 2008

The Role of Chemotherapy at the End of Life: “When Is Enough, Enough?”

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Internal Medicine and the Thomas Palliative Care Program of the Massey Cancer Center of Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.

JAMA. 2008;299(22):2667-2678. doi:10.1001/jama.299.22.2667

Patients face difficult decisions about chemotherapy near the end of life. Such treatment might prolong survival or reduce symptoms but cause adverse effects, prevent the patient from engaging in meaningful life review and preparing for death, and preclude entry into hospice. Palliative care and oncology clinicians should be logical partners in caring for patients with serious cancers for which symptom control, medically appropriate goal setting, and communication are paramount, but some studies have shown limited cooperation. We illustrate how clinicians involved in palliative care and oncology can more effectively work together with the story of Mr L, a previously healthy 56-year-old man, who wanted to survive his lung cancer at all costs. He lived 14 months with 3 types of chemotherapy, received chemotherapy just 6 days before his death, and resisted entering hospice until his prognosis and options were explicitly communicated. Approaches to communication about prognosis and treatment options and questions that patients may want to ask are discussed.

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