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Call over 'futile' cancer treatment

Dying cancer patients should be spared "futile" and expensive treatment which can offer "false hope" in the last weeks of life, experts have said.

Warning of a tendency to "overdiagnose, overtreat, and overpromise", they said the medical profession had created a set of "unrealistic expectations" with regard to the disease.

Terminally ill patients could even be better off if they "forgo" certain treatments which would reduce spending and potentially improve end of life care, the academics said.

In an article in The Lancet Oncology journal, the group said burgeoning cancer costs were being driven up by an ageing population and the rapid development of new medicines and surgery.

Led by Professor Richard Sullivan, of King's College London, they said developed countries were now heading towards a "crisis in medical-care delivery" with cancer surgery becoming "unaffordable".

"Special consideration must be given to costs of cancer care at the end of life," they wrote. "Many forms of cancer are currently incurable and patients will eventually die from their disease.

"If we could accurately predict when further disease-directed therapy would be futile, we clearly would want to spare the patient the toxicity and false hope associated with such treatment, as well as the expense."

In their lengthy report the experts looked at a series of therapies but said that even the best interventions and tests, while valuable in one setting, were wasteful in others.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The Cancer Drug Fund is helping more people get access to the drugs they need.

"Between October 2010 and April 2011, almost 2,500 benefited from the fund. Wherever you live, decisions on the use of the CDF are taken on a clinical basis. In the long term, we are changing the way drugs are priced to ensure value for the NHS and better access for patients."

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