BALTIMORE (CBS Baltimore) – Patients suffering from incurable forms of cancer maintain hope of survival if they are receiving chemotherapy or other treatments for their diseases, despite the deadliness of their illnesses, a new study found.

The study, published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined over 1,000 patients with incurable forms of cancer in the lungs and colon. Researchers reportedly found in the process that, despite the fatal nature of their ailments, many patients were all the same unclear about their life expectancy due to treatment they were receiving.

Chemotherapy can lengthen the life of these patients by weeks, or perhaps months, but are ultimately useful only in staving off death for a finite length of time, CBS News learned from the federally funded study.

Dr. Thomas J. Smith of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and Dr. Dan L. Longo, a deputy editor at the medical journal, asserted that discrepancies in the definition of the word “cure,” combined with a lack of clarity in doctors’ discourse with patients, could contribute to the confusion.

“If patients actually have unrealistic expectations of a cure from a therapy that is administered with palliative intent, we have a serious problem of miscommunication,” they were quoted as writing by CBS News. “We have the tools to help patients make these difficult decisions. We just need the gumption and incentives to use them.”

The study reportedly sparked a discussion for researchers regarding the costs of treatment – especially to the Medicare program . An alleged 25 percent of Medicare dollars went toward the last years of patients’ lives, and 9 percent toward the final two months.

But Smith noted that the bigger issue is patient comfort.

He added, “This really isn’t about saving money, so much as honoring people’s choices.”


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