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Many Terminal Cancer Patients Put False Hope in Chemo, Study Finds
Date:10/25/2012

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Many people with incurable cancer mistakenly believe chemotherapy may save them, a new study finds.

Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that more than 80 percent of people with advanced colon cancer and nearly 70 percent with advanced lung cancer thought chemo could cure their disease. In reality, chemo might give them several more months of life or ease troubling symptoms, but it rarely offers a cure for these diseases once they've spread to distant sites in the body.

"It's really easy for people to have expectations that aren't well aligned with reality," said the study's senior author, Dr. Deborah Schrag, an attending physician in adult oncology at Dana-Farber. "They want to be the one to beat the cancer. And, doctors want to be helpful. We want to be positive.

"What's clear," she added, "is that whatever we're doing right now, we need to change."

These misunderstandings may keep patients from making informed treatment decisions and preparing for death, say the study authors.

The study, published Oct. 25 in the New England Journal of Medicine, included almost 1,200 people who were part of the larger Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance study. The study volunteers were surveyed about four months after their diagnosis with advanced lung or colon cancer -- cancer that had spread to other areas of their body (metastasized). Almost all were receiving chemotherapy.

Overall, 69 percent of the lung cancer patients and 81 percent with colon cancer reported unrealistic expectations about the likelihood that their chemotherapy might cure them.

People with colon cancer were more likely to believe that chemo might provide a cure, and blacks and Hispanics were significantly more likely to think that.

Patients who reported having favorable communication with their doctor we
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