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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 00:01 GMT 01:01 UK
Cancer patients 'choose chemo'
Breast tumour
Breast cancer patients may be given chemotherapy
Women with breast cancer want the reassurance of having chemotherapy - even if there is little evidence it will help them, says research.

Women having powerful drug treatment for early breast cancer following surgery were asked whether they would make the same choice again in hindsight.


We have got to remember that a cancer patient's goal is to live at all costs

Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign
Many said they would ask for chemotherapy - even in a situation where doctors were saying there it was unlikely to benefit them.

This came as a surprise to doctors, who would not normally countenance giving any treatment which appears unlikely to improve the patient's survival chances.

However, the research team believes that the need of cancer patients to "take control" of their disease prompts this apparently irrational demand.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, involved a survey of 78 women, who were all having regular check-ups.

Some were having chemotherapy, others were not.

Side-effects

Although the side-effects of the drugs can be severe, including hair loss, nausea, weight loss and fatigue, in general, even the tiniest increase in their chances was enough to prompt most to choose chemotherapy.

And 40% of those already on chemotherapy said they would have been prepared to take it, even if doctors said it would not improve their survival chances.


We think that taking the treatment may help to combat the feeling of helplessness

Dr Sylvia Jansen, Leiden University Medical Centre
Dr Anne Stiggelbout, from the Leiden University Medical Centre, where the survey was conducted, said: "With chemotherapy there's always a trade-off between the temporary deterioration in the patient's quality of life and the chance of their cancer not returning.

"We wanted to know the minimum benefit that a patient would need before she would opt for chemotherapy - just how low should we go?"

cancer drugs
Cancer drugs can cause unpleasant side-effects
Dr Sylvia Jansen, who performed the research and interviewed the patients, said that the women's response might seem irrational, but could be a reflection of the hidden psychological benefits of chemotherapy.

She said: "We think that taking the treatment may help to combat the feeling of helplessness that can come with a cancer diagnosis.

"As one of our patients remarked: 'At least I've done everything I could.'"

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the UK Cancer Research Campaign, said: "We have got to remember that a cancer patient's goal is to live at all costs.

"This suggests that for women with breast cancer, adjuvant chemotherapy not only improves their chances of survival but also gives them a sense of control over their lives."

See also:

23 Oct 00 | Latest News
Talking 'helps' breast cancer patients
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