Radiation Experience Better Than Expected for Breast Cancer Patients

SAN DIEGO-While the prospect of undergoing radiation treatment is a fearful one for most cancer patients, a new survey among breast cancer patients suggests that most women found therapy far less challenging than they feared.

Nine out of 10 surveyed patients reported that their experiences with radiation therapy, including overall and specific long-term and short-term side effects, was less "scary" than they anticipated, according to a study presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology Annual Meeting.

Moreover, almost 90 percent of respondents agreed that, if future patients knew the reality of the radiation therapy experience, they would be less afraid of treatment.
While the efficacy and toxicity of breast radiation has been extensively studied, little has been known until now regarding patient's perspective on their treatment experience, said Narek Shaverdian, MD, lead author of the study and a radiation oncology resident at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.He and his colleagues found that almost half of the women reported that they had heard or read frightening stories about radiation therapy, and more than 90 percent were initially fearful of undergoing radiotherapy.

"Radiation oncologists know firsthand that our patients come in with fears and sometimes misconceptions. Unlike many other treatments and fields of medicine, it is very hard to imagine what radiation therapy is like," he told a press briefing.

"Advances in radiation therapy technologies over the past several decades and the increased use of hypofractionation-where radiation is given in larger doses across fewer sessions-have afforded patients more convenient treatment options, as well as lower toxicity rates in many situations," explained Shaverdian. "I am hopeful that most patients are not incapacitated by fear."

Respondents reported their original fears about radiation treatment, and how short- and long-term toxicities compared to initial expectations by asking if the actual experience was "as expected," "worse," or "better than expected." They were also asked about how their pre-treatment beliefs about radiation therapy compared to the actual experience.

"Our study shows that women who received modern breast radiation therapy overwhelmingly found the treatment experience far better than expected. The negative stories out there are frightening and pervasive, but they generally are not reflective of the actual experience," added Susan McCloskey, MD, MSHS, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, leader of the breast program in the UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology, and senior author of the study.