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Chemotherapy mortality rates spark a rethink of the treatment

Chemotherapy mortality rates spark a rethink of the treatment

Nineteen trusts are reviewing their use of chemotherapy after research found higher than average death rates with in a month of receiving the treatment.

A study published in The Lancet Oncology Journal and backed by Public Health England (PHE) data, found that some hospitals had higher than average mortality rates after prescribing chemotherapy for breast and lung cancer.

The study, which used data from more than 30,000 patients in England, concluded that age and general wellbeing, among other factors, contributed to the mortality rate.

The average death rate 30 days after chemotherapy was found to be 8.4% for patients with lung cancer and 2.4% for breast cancer patients.

However, in Milton Keynes Hospital, just over 50% of patients with lung cancer died within a month after receiving the treatment, although the sample size was small.

At Lancashire Teaching Hospitals the mortality rate hit 28.3% for palliative lung cancer treatment, while The Royal Bournemouth & Christchurch Hospitals saw a 26% death rate for curative treatment.

Dr Jem Rashbass, cancer lead for PHE, said: “Chemotherapy is a vital part of cancer treatment and is a large reason behind the improved survival rates over last 4 decades.

“However, it is powerful medication with significant side effects and often getting the balance right on which patients to treat aggressively can be hard.

She added: “Those hospitals whose death rates are outside the expected range have had the findings shared with them and we have asked them to review their practice and data.”

Professor Jane Maher, joint chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Chemotherapy is a crucial part of cancer treatment, having had an enormous impact on rising survival rates over the years. However, it can result in severe long-term side effects such as the risk of heart or lung problems later in life. It’s important that the full impact is considered when administering something so powerful.

“This is why it’s concerning to see that the risk of death following chemotherapy intended to cure non-small cell lung cancer is almost four times as high as previously thought.”

The study also found that the death rate for treatment of non-small cell lung cancer with curative intent is closer to 3% as opposed to the 0.8% based on clinical trials.

Maher added: “Access to this real–world data is crucial for health professionals to help them better understand the delicate balancing act when comparing the risk of death or severe side effects and the potential increase in survival if chemotherapy is administered.

“It’s also important that patients are as well-informed as possible to help them make decisions around their treatment.”

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Some 19 trusts are reviewing their use of chemotherapy after research found high death rates within a month of receiving the treatment