ASTRO: Many Terminal Lung Cancer Patients Believe Palliative Radiation Therapy Is a Cure

November 1, 2012

A significant portion of patients with incurable lung cancer believe that palliative radiation therapy will cure the disease or at least help them live longer, according to a new study. Only about one-third of patients acknowledged that the treatment was not at all likely to cure their cancer.

A significant portion of patients with incurable lung cancer believe that palliative radiation therapy will cure the disease or at least help them live longer, according to a new study. Only about one-third of patients acknowledged that the treatment was not at all likely to cure their cancer.

“Our study found that, though most lung cancer patients are optimistic about the effectiveness of radiation therapy in relieving symptoms and prolonging life, many have inaccurate beliefs about the ability of palliative radiation therapy to cure their cancer,” said Aileen B. Chen, MD, in a press release. Dr. Chen presented results from the study at the recent American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting in Boston.

The Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium study enrolled 5,013 patients with newly diagnosed lung cancer. Patients were at least 21 years of age at diagnosis, and were enrolled from five different geographic regions, 10 Veterans Administration sites, and five large health maintenance organizations between 2003 and 2005. Of this total cohort, 832 patients had stage wet IIIB or IV lung cancer at diagnosis and were due to undergo radiation therapy; 384 (46%) of those completed surveys on their beliefs about the treatment. The median survival among these patients was 11.5 months.

More than three-quarters of patients (78%) said it was either very likely or somewhat likely that radiation therapy would help them live longer. Similarly, 67% said it was very or somewhat likely that the treatment would help with problems from the cancer. Perhaps most importantly, 19% said it was very likely and 24% said it was somewhat likely that radiation therapy would actually cure their cancer; 9% said it was a little likely while only 36% said it was not at all likely for the treatment to represent a cure.

Two-thirds of patients (66%) did acknowledge that it was very or somewhat likely for radiation to have side effects, while only 11% said it was not at all likely, and 10% said it was a little likely.

“In order to help patients make informed decisions about radiation treatments near the end of life, health care providers need to improve communication and understanding about the goals and limitations of palliative radiation therapy,” Dr. Chen said. “While palliative radiation therapy can be very effective at relieving symptoms from cancer, overly intensive care can also reduce patients’ quality of life and lead to significant time and financial burdens for patients and their families.”