Chemotherapy is being provided to cancer patients near the end of their life in cases where it is inappropriate, research has suggested.

A study of more than 600 patients who died within 30 days of receiving the treatment found that in 27 per cent of cases it had probably caused or quickened their death.

The results are contained in a National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death report called Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy: for better, for worse?

Researchers considered the decision to treat with chemotherapy to be inappropriate in 19 per cent of the cases reviewed. Twenty-one per cent of patients were severely debilitated when the decision was taken.

Report co-author Diana Mort, a clinical oncologist at the specialist Velindre trust in Cardiff, said: "My involvement in the NCEPOD study has reinforced my belief in being cautious in prescribing chemotherapy for very sick patients."

She called for managers to provide time for clinical audit of chemotherapy to be carried out.

Dr Mort added that clinicians, particularly in accident and emergency, should be made aware of the serious life-threatening infections, known as neutropenic sepsis, that can follow chemotherapy.

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