No place like home for cancer patients

No place like home for cancer patients

People with terminal cancer who want to prolong what life they have left might be better off forgoing hospital treatment.

A new Japanese study has found patients who live out their final days at home, on average, live longer than those who stay in hospital.

More than 2000 patients were looked at in the research -- 1582 receiving palliative care in hospital and 487 at home. Even after taking into account differences in patients' demographics and clinical situation, they found people allowed to die at home lived "significantly" longer.

"The cancer patient and family tend to be concerned that the quality of medical treatment provided at home will be inferior to that given in a hospital and that survival might be shortened," said study leader Dr Jun Hamano of the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

"However, our finding -- that home death does not actually have a negative influence on the survival of cancer patients at all, and rather may have a positive influence -- could suggest that the patient and family can choose the place of death in terms of their preference and values."

One limitation of the study is that despite the researchers' best efforts to take variables such as the patients' backgrounds and condition into account, confirmation that being sent home prolongs patients' lives can't be ascertained with 100 percent certainty.

"To confirm whether the place of death influences the survival time, a randomised controlled trial is the most robust type of clinical research, but randomising the place of death is practically impossible and unethical," the study notes.

But the results back up an earlier study, which suggested home-based sufferers could perhaps live up to twice as long as those staying in hospital.

"Patients, families, and clinicians should be reassured that good home hospice care does not shorten patient life, and even may achieve longer survival," says Dr Hamano.

The findings were published today in CANCER, a journal published by the American Cancer Society.