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‘Curative’ treatments and palliative care: the lack of consensus

Gaertner, Jana,b,c; Knies, A.d; Nauck, F.e; Voltz, R.d; Becker, G.a,b,c; Alt-Epping, B.e

doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000099
SUPPORTIVE CARE: Edited by Jean A. Klastersky

Purpose of review A survey was performed to assess whether authors who report about palliative treatments or palliative care share a common understanding of ‘curative’ treatments.

Recent findings Of 107 authors from publications about cancer who used both ‘palliative’ and ‘curative’ in the same abstract, 42 (39%) responded. The majority (n = 24; 57%) understood ‘curative’ treatments as ‘aimed at complete absence of disease for the rest of life’, but 43% (n = 18) did not share this view. For example, 19% (n = 7) stated that the term describes cancer-directed therapy for prolongation of life or even regardless of the aspired goal.

Summary In the care for cancer patients, unambiguous terminology is essential for the participatory and interdisciplinary decision-making process. Clinicians, researchers and policy makers should be aware of the difference between curative and disease-modifying therapies. Otherwise, this may be a major source of misunderstandings as disease-modifying therapy may be indicated in the incurable stages of the disease as well. In these palliative situations, it is essential to identify the realistic aim(s) of the therapy: prolongation of life, alleviation of suffering or both.

aDepartment of Palliative Care, University Hospital Freiburg

bComprehensive Cancer Center Ludwig-Heilmeyer, Freiburg

cCompetence Center Palliative Care (KOMPACT), Baden-Württemberg

dDepartment of Palliative Care, University Hospital Cologne, Cologne

eDepartment of Palliative Medicine, University Medical Center, Göttingen, Germany

Correspondence to Dr Jan Gaertner, Department of Palliative Care, University Hospital Freiburg, 79106 Freiburg, Germany. Tel: +49 761 27095412; fax: +49 761 27095414; e-mail:

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.