Atlanta Doctors are reporting a disturbing rise in the number of cancer patients getting chemo and other aggressive but futile treatment in the last days of their lives.
Critics of the practice say doctors should be concentrating instead on helping these patients die with dignity and in comfort, perhaps in a hospice.
Nearly 12 percent of cancer patients who died in 1999 received chemotherapy in the last two weeks of life, a large review of Medicare records revealed.
That is up from nearly 10 percent in 1993, and the percentage is probably even higher today, researchers said.
Overly aggressive treatment gives false hope and puts people through grueling and costly ordeals when there is no chance of a cure, cancer specialists said.
"There is a time to stop," said Dr. Craig Earle of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.
"It's sometimes easier to just keep giving chemotherapy than to have a frank discussion about hospice and palliative care."
Earle led the federally funded study and presented the findings Friday at a meeting in Atlanta of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.