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Here's why terminally ill cancer patients should avoid surgery!

The study highlights the dilemma that physicians and surgeons face when their terminally ill cancer patients are diagnosed with a condition that may benefit from surgery.

Washington: Patients with disseminated advanced cancer who undergo surgery are far more likely to endure long hospital stays and readmissions, referrals to extended care facilities and death, found a recent research.

The study highlights the dilemma that physicians and surgeons face when their terminally ill cancer patients are diagnosed with a condition that may benefit from surgery, such as bowel obstruction, as well as the need for substantive discussions about the risks of surgery and implications on future quality of life.

Lead author Sarah B. Bateni said, "We commonly consult with patients who have acute surgical conditions and advanced cancer, and it has left us to weigh the risks and benefits of surgical intervention. It's important to carefully examine their risks before proposing surgery, and to understand what their goals of care are for their remaining days."

For the study, Bateni and colleagues examined the cases of approximately 18,000 patients who had stage 4 (metastatic) cancer who went on to undergo surgery.

The cases were matched with patients who had similar characteristics such as age, gender and functional status before surgery and underwent similar operations but did not have stage 4 cancer.

They found that the group of patients with stage 4 cancer spent more time in the hospital (32 percent vs. 20 percent), were readmitted to the hospital more frequently (16 percent vs. 10 percent), were more often referred to another facility such as skilled nursing (16 percent to 13 percent) and had higher mortality within 30 days of the procedure (8 percent vs. 2.5 percent) than their counterparts who did not have late-stage cancers.

What was most surprising was that the stage 4 cancer patients who didn't have any complications during their hospitalization ended up staying in the hospital longer, were readmitted more often, were more often discharged to other facilities and had higher 30-day mortality compared to patients who didn't have stage 4 cancer.

"This diagnosis really is an indicator of the frailty of these patients and is itself a risk factor for readmission, prolonged stays in the hospital and discharge to other facilities," she said.

The team concluded that doctors and surgeons need to talk with their terminally ill cancer patients about their end-of-life goals, palliative care and the risks and benefits of surgery.

The study was published in PLOS One.

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