Is dying from cancer treatment worse than dying from cancer?

4 answers | Last updated: Oct 22, 2016
Pandora asked...

Is it better to die from treatment of cancer or just die from the disease? Is prolonging the death cycle really better in quality?

Expert Answers

Andrew Putnam, M.D. is a Palliative Care physician at Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University.

As a general question, this is very hard to answer since different cancers behave differently. Cancer treatment can prolong life in many cases for some period of time but the question is at what cost to quality of life? For some people, the cost is well worth the benefits. For others, the benefits can be very small after treatment is no longer capable of supplying desired success. In many cases there comes a time when it is reasonable to refuse cancer treatment and different people can disagree on when that is. Each individual must decide, often with the help of family and friends, when, if the disease appears to be winning, is the right time to stop. Every individual has the right to choose that time if desired when the suffering due to treatment is likely to be worse than focusing on comfort and quality of life, no matter the final outcome.

Community Answers

Pandora answered...

I know that this is a matter of opinion, however, last year when my dad was in chemo for advanced prostate ca with mets to the bone, his doctor whom we love and trust, said...You will not die from Cancer. At the time we were elated, however, now that dad is on Chemo indefinately until end of life...That statement means a whole lot more than it did back then. After many hospitalizations due to pneumnonia because of prolonged chemo, my dad will never have an immune system again, so a common cold can kill him...Also prolonged chemo kills good and bad cells so with it along came heart issues and other illness. So yes, Cancer may not kill my dad, but the treatment so to speak will by its side effects. For now my dad who is 65 is fighting and a survivor. I am so proud of him. However I see where this is going and I'm not sure how much he can and will endure. So does he just go off treatment because he can no longer bare the symptoms of treatment. And let Cancer hold its course and take him....Or do you stay not being able to do anything for weeks at a time because of the numerous side effects. This disease is horrible and so is the treatment....I pray that the day he tells me he can't endure any long, I will hold up....Any thoughts prayer etc. Welcomed....

A fellow caregiver answered...

My husband died from heart problems complicated by chemo. However, he was in terrible pain from the tumor in his leg. We had no choice but to try chemo first. But it didn't help him and it made him weaker, I think and less able to fight the cancer.

I think many doctors push the patient to chemo even knowing that the chemo will not do the job. My husband's doctor did that. But I have no idea what kind of pain my husband would have endured without the chemo. With chemo, he not only had the horrible pain, he also had extreme and painful gastro problems, crying and moaning from that. I learned there is no good way to die from cancer. My choice would be to call in someone who can make the death as quick as possible to lesson the chance of infection added to the cancer and chemo pain. That is what I told the hospice doctor who wanted to cut back on his pain meds. Why? I asked the young doctor why would he want to do that. The doctor said with less pain med he would be conscious and able to talk to me. But my husband would suffer more and I could not deal with it any longer. I insisted on deep sedation and pain medicine to give my husband complete pain relief. He died within 24 hours which was a blessing for him. I can't forget the pain he suffered and my helplessness. I hope if I get cancer I can just die as soon as possible.

Jade1961 answered...

As the good Dr. Andrew Putnam stated, "As a general question, this is very hard to answer since different cancers behave differently". I was diagnosed with Uterine/Ovarian cancer in 1992. In 1993 it took a complete Hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries to end that cancer. I had one child & was only 27 years old. Then, three years later while at my orthopedist's for a checkup on a high tibial osteotomy, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. My Ortho was not a cancer doctor so he set me up with an Orthopedic Oncologist. I was told I had 18mths to live and to "Get my affairs in order". I was given a 60% chance of chemotherapy killing me so I took no treatment. I have been in remission now for 10+ years. Everyone is different. A lot of the determining factors are missing from the question. What kind of cancer? How old is the patient? Has hospice been looked at as an alternative? But, as a survivor who works very heavily with LIVESTRONG I have to add the following & hope it helps you.

The Manifesto of the Lance Armstrong Foundation

We believe in life. Your life. We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being. And that you must not let cancer take control of it. We believe in energy: channelled and fierce. We believe in focus: getting smart and living strong. Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything. This is the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

We kick in the moment you're diagnosed. We help you accept the tears. Acknowledge the rage. We believe in your right to live without pain. We believe in information. Not pity. And in straight, open talk about cancer. With husbands, wives and partners. With kids, friends and neighbors. And the people you live with, work with, cry and laugh with. This is no time to pull punches. You're in the fight of your life. We're about the hard stuff. Like finding the nerve to ask for a second opinion. And a third, or a fourth, if that's what it takes. We're about getting smart about clinical trials. And if it comes to it, being in control of how your life ends. It's your life. You will have it your way.

We're about the practical stuff. Planning for surviving. Banking your sperm. Preserving your fertility. Organizing your finances. Dealing with hospitals, specialists, insurance companies and employers. It's knowing your rights. It's your life. Take no prisoners.

We're about the fight. We're your champion on Capitol Hill. Your advocate with the healthcare system. Your sponsor in the research labs. And we know the fight never ends. Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life. This is the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Founded and inspired by one of the toughest cancer survivors on the planet. LIVESTRONGâ„¢