(ChemotherapyAdvisor) –  More men and women in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, but many patients with incurable cases mistakenly believe palliative radiation therapy prescribed to reduce pain is potentially curative, according to a study presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO’s) 54th Annual Meeting, Boston, MA.

“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 radiotherapy to cure their cancer,” reported lead author Aileen B. Chen, MD, MPP, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and coauthors. “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 RT.”

The authors expressed concern that such misunderstandings may lead patients to undergo longer and more intensive radiation therapies, potentially reducing the quality of their remaining life spans.

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“While palliative RT 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,” Dr. Chen said.

Recent studies have shown similar communication failures for patients with terminal cases of other cancers, as well, Dr. Chen noted.

The authors’ survey utilized data from 384 patient questionnaires collected during the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium (CanCORS) study, a prospective health-system population-based cohort study of patients with newly-diagnosed lung cancer at 10 United States Veterans Administration facilities and 5 large HMOs, the authors reported. 

Median survival among those who completed patient beliefs surveys was 11.5 months, but 78% of patients expected radiotherapy was “very likely or somewhat likely” to extend their life spans, and 43% believed radiotherapy was very or somewhat likely to cure their lung cancer, the authors reported.

Fewer than half (36%) of patients surveyed, reported understanding that palliative radiotherapy is “not at all likely” to cure their cancer, Dr. Chen reported.

Abstract (Search for Abstract #4 by Author Name “Chen, Aileen”)