The role of chemotherapy at the end of life: "when is enough, enough?"

JAMA. 2008 Jun 11;299(22):2667-78. doi: 10.1001/jama.299.22.2667.


Patients face difficult decisions about chemotherapy near the end of life. Such treatment might prolong survival or reduce symptoms but cause adverse effects, prevent the patient from engaging in meaningful life review and preparing for death, and preclude entry into hospice. Palliative care and oncology clinicians should be logical partners in caring for patients with serious cancers for which symptom control, medically appropriate goal setting, and communication are paramount, but some studies have shown limited cooperation. We illustrate how clinicians involved in palliative care and oncology can more effectively work together with the story of Mr L, a previously healthy 56-year-old man, who wanted to survive his lung cancer at all costs. He lived 14 months with 3 types of chemotherapy, received chemotherapy just 6 days before his death, and resisted entering hospice until his prognosis and options were explicitly communicated. Approaches to communication about prognosis and treatment options and questions that patients may want to ask are discussed.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Decision Making
  • Hospices
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prognosis
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents