Cancer Center Researchers Cited for Major Advances in 2011 by ASCO

American Society of Clinical Oncology highlights work in lung cancer, end-of-life care

Research by members of Norris Cotton Cancer Center has been cited by the American Society of Clinical Oncology as noteworthy advancements in 2011 in the effort to improve cancer treatment and prevention.

Focus article photo

William Black, MD (Photo by Jon Gilbert Fox)

In its report titled Clinical Cancer Advances, ASCO highlighted research the Cancer Center participated in that emphasized the effectiveness low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans in reducing the risk of dying from lung cancer. ASCO also spotlighted a report issued in 2011 by the Dartmouth Atlas Project, to which Cancer Center members contributed, that found varied levels of end-of-life care for senior cancer patients.

"The research advances detailed in this year's Clinical Cancer Advances report demonstrate that improvements in cancer screening, treatment, and prevention are saving and improving lives," wrote Michael Link, MD, ASCO president, in the report's introduction. "Cancer research has transformed cancer care over the past 40 years, and this Clinical Cancer Advances report illustrates how far we have come in the past year alone. We now have a tremendous opportunity to utilize today's knowledge and collaborate across all facets of cancer care to conquer this deadly disease."

CT Scans Reduce Lung Cancer Death Rate
Photo: Elliott Fisher, MD, MPH

Elliott Fisher, MD, MPH (Photo by Mark Washburn)

William Black, MD, a member of the Cancer Center's Cancer Control Research Program, was part of the team that helped discover the effectiveness of CT scans in reducing the death rate from lung cancer, which ASCO called a "major advance." "Until now, potential screening approaches have had little impact on reducing the risk of dying from the disease. However, results published this year from a large national screening trial of more than 50,000 current and former heavy smokers found that annual low-dose CT scans reduced the death rate from lung cancer by 20 percent compared to those who were screened with annual chest X-rays," stated the report. "This is the first randomized trial to find a definitive reduction in lung cancer deaths with screening."

Varying Cancer Care at End of Life

Elliott Fisher, MD, MPH, and Nancy Morden, MD, MPH, who are also both members of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Cancer Center, are part of the team that wrote and edited "Quality of End-of-Life Cancer Care for Medicare Beneficiaries: Regional and Hospital-Specific Analyses," published by The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. The report, noted ASCO, "shows that many patients with advanced cancer spend significant time at the end of their life in the hospital and do not consistently receive hospice care that is aimed at maximizing the quality of life."

Photo: Nancy Morden, MD, MPH

Nancy Morden, MD, MPH (Photo by Mark Washburn)

Key report findings include:

  • In many regions and centers across the United States, patients with advanced cancer receive care at the end of life in hospice or some other palliative care setting. However, overall, more than one-third of cancer patients with a poor prognosis spend their last days in the hospital or intensive care unit. Approximately 60 percent of cancer patients were hospitalized at least once during the last months of life.
  • In at least 50 academic medical centers, less than half of advanced cancer patients received hospice services during the last month of life. Many patients were enrolled within days of their death, and patients and families appeared to benefit little from such care.

The report also points to research showing that palliative and hospice care may prolong life, even as they improve its quality.

December 16, 2011