ASTRO 2012: Incurable lung cancer patients misunderstand palliative RT

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ASTRO 2012 : Les patients incurables de cancer de poumon mal comprennent la droite palliative

par Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | October 29, 2012
Patients with incurable lung cancer often misunderstand the purpose of palliative radiation therapy treatment, according to a study shared at ASTRO's 2012 annual meeting in Boston on Monday.

Palliative therapy is often given to patients whose disease can't be cured but whose pain or other symptoms could be relieved by the treatment. However, in a multi-center study surveying adults with incurable lung cancer, some two-thirds of patients receiving palliative radiation therapy didn't realize the intervention wasn't a cure.

"Many (patients) have unrealistic expectations about its ability to cure their cancer," Dr. Aileen Chen, lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told reporters during a press conference Monday.

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The study was part of a series of abstracts presented at ASTRO that deal with patient outcomes.

"The patient perspective is important," Dr. Benjamin Movas, vice-chairman of the 2012 annual meeting scientific committee at ASTRO, told reporters. "It tells us the rest of the story."

The study, based on Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium (CanCORS) data covering five geographic regions, surveyed 384 patients over age 21 who had been diagnosed with incurable third or fourth stage lung cancer between 2003 and 2005. Patients completed the survey four months after diagnosis, the researchers said.

Most of the patients thought the palliative treatment would help them. About 67 percent said it was very, or somewhat, likely to help with their symptoms, and 78 percent believed it was very, or somewhat, likely to help them live longer. Most troubling, around 64 percent didn't realize the radiation wasn't likely to cure their cancer, the researchers said.

Chen said the results fit well with a similar study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine that found many patients with metastatic colorectal or lung cancer mistakenly believed that chemotherapy for metastatic disease was curative. In that study of some 1,200 patients, 69 percent of lung cancer, and 81 percent of colorectal cancer, patients didn't realize the chemotherapy was not going to cure their disease.

Chen said her study suggest that better communication strategies are needed to convey accurate information to patients.

"In order to make informed decisions about their cancer care, patients need to have accurate and realistic expectations about their treatment," she said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the United States, Chen said, and half of patients have metastatic disease.

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