Science & Tech

Study says children with cancer often suffer needlessly

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Quality of life gives way to desperate struggle for a cure

“Since caregivers are very committed to curing their patients, it may be difficult for them to recognize when to incorporate palliative care into treatments, even when there’s little hope of cure,” notes Joanne Wolfe, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and lead author of a report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, that says children dying of cancer experience substantial suffering that is unnecessary. Researchers think that physicians often believe that the quality of life of children is secondary to trying to cure them. Wolfe and colleagues questioned parents of 103 children who died at hospitals in 1997 and 1998. In answer to queries about the distress their children felt, mothers and fathers said the youngsters suffered “a lot” or “a great deal.” Their suffering came mainly from pain, fatigue, and breathing difficulties. “We found that treatment (for these problems) was seldom successful, even in the case of symptoms that are typically considered to be amenable to treatment,” Wolfe reported.