Chemotherapy-related death data published for first time

Intravenous Hand Hospital

A new report based on systemic anticancer treatment (SACT) data has been published for the first time, providing valuable insight into chemotherapy treatment and mortality risk.

The researchers looked at numbers of cancer patients who died within 30 days of starting chemotherapy, which is said to indicate that the treatment is the cause of death, as opposed to the cancer itself.

The report, published in the Lancet Oncology, reveals that age, general health, wellbeing and other variables may all be factors that influence survival. Older patients with more advanced cancers and underlying illnesses were more likely to die, as were those patients who had a low BMI. Patients were also more likely to die during their first round of chemotherapy.

The study looked at 23,228 women with breast cancer and 9,634 patients with the most common form of lung cancer who underwent chemotherapy in 2014. Of those patients combined who began a course of chemotherapy, 1,383 sadly died within 30 days.

The observational study, which was co-authored by Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) and Cancer Research UK, found that, overall in England, 8.4% of lung cancer patients and 2.4% of breast cancer patients passed away within a month of starting chemotherapy.

Figures are said to vary by region, however, the majority of the data is said to relate to palliative patients – where chemotherapy is used to slow the progression of cancer and a cure is not anticipated.


Vital – but powerful – medication

Dr Jem Rashbass, Cancer Lead for PHE, says: “Chemotherapy is a vital part of cancer treatment and is a large reason behind the improved survival rates over last four 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.”

“Critically important resource for future research”

Lead clinical author Professor David Dodwell, Institute of Oncology at St James Hospital in Leeds says: “The factors we have identified should be a focus of discussions about treatment between patients and their clinicians to allow better informed decisions. The SACT data and other data sources in NCRAS are a critically important resource for future research.”

Professor David Cameron of Scotland’s Edinburgh Cancer Centre, says: “The concern is that some of the patients dying within 30 days of being given chemo probably shouldn’t have been given the chemo. But, how many? There is no easy way to answer that, but perhaps looking at those places/hospitals where the death rate was higher might help.

“Furthermore, if we give less chemo then some patients will die because they didn’t get chemo. It’s a fine balance and the more data we have the better we can be at making sure we get the balance right.”

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Clinician, says: “This is the first time this type of data has been collected and analysed so extensively. This was a huge undertaking but it now means we have a way to measure if the health service is getting better at delivering the right drugs to the right patients. It’s vital that this data continues to be collected and analysed routinely so that we can make sure it is continually improving.”

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