Nationwide Survey Details Patient Understanding of Cancer Treatment Adverse Events


A recent study shows the importance of information regarding adverse events of cancer treatment for prospective patients.

Patient experiences with radiation therapy and the potential adverse events (AEs) stemming from the treatment are typically aligned with expectations of the process, a study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice reported.1

In total, 82% of the study population reported having adequate amounts of information regarding the potential AEs from radiation treatment.

On the contrary, the survey concluded that 18% of respondents felt “inadequately informed” of potential AEs from treatment, and 37% experienced AEs they wished they knew more about before treatment.

“[The study] affords key information about the nature and severity of the adverse effects patients perceived to be related to their treatments, how actual toxicity experiences diverged from expectations, and how factors correlated with inadequate information about adverse effects,” wrote the researchers.

A random sample of 403 patients with cancer who underwent treatment within the past 5 years were surveyed by Public Opinion Strategies to determine how patients “perceive their treatment toxicities and their level of informed decision making.” Of the sample, breast (40%) and prostate (21%) cancer were the two most represented among the population.

The survey, which was sponsored by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), also analyzed different information sources and how they impact a patient’s understanding of treatment. An overwhelming majority of the study’s population cited their primary care physician to be either somewhat (29%) or very important (64%) in their decision-making process in understanding cancer treatment options. Even more, cancer-related web sites (50%), family and friends (33%), prior patient experiences (29%), and cancer support groups (20%) represented the most common sources of information about cancer for patients.

Patients noted feeling tired (56%), feeling weak (50%), and skin burning (46%) as the most common concerns they shared prior to undergoing treatment. While the vast majority of patients reported the AEs were no worse than anticipated, some did find the toxicities from radiation to be worse than expected.

“This study shares the experiences of more than 400 patients with cancer and offers a needed real-world assessment on the adequacy of current patient-physician communication and informed consent processes,” the researchers explained.

Even more, 68% of the participants surveyed reported they felt their radiation oncologist had the same or more cancer knowledge as any other oncologist on their treatment team. This provides valuable information for the researchers, as they believe this shows the patients value “a well-balanced description of the benefits and potential toxicities associated with radiation” from the voice of the radiation oncologist.

Outside of the standard survey biases, the study’s main limitation pertains to the demographics of patients, in which the survey responses included only a small sample size for patients with less than a high school education, limiting the ability to fully understand this specific population with confidence.

The researchers stressed that, because of the wish of some participants to know more information, there is a necessity to strengthen and increase resources to educate potential patients. Moreover, updating the web sites, books, and other resources prospective patients use to acquire information regarding treatment is necessary to ensuring accurate information is disseminated.

“Across all modalities of cancer therapy, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, approximately 1 in 5 patients reported insufficient information on adverse effects, and one in three experienced adverse effects they wish that they had known more about,” wrote the researchers.

The findings from this particular survey were consistent across multiple demographics, including sex, education level, age, ethnicity, US region, and cancer type.




Shaverdian N, Yeboa DN, Gardner L, et al. Nationwide Survey of Patients’ Perspectives Regarding Their Radiation and Multidisciplinary Cancer Treatment Experiences. J Oncol Pract. doi:10. 1200/JOP.19.00376.

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