Experiences With Radiation Therapy Better Than Expected for Most Patients With Breast Cancer

Key Points

  • 83% of survey participants underwent breast-conservation therapy (defined as lumpectomy and radiation therapy).
  • 68% of surveyed patients stated that they initially had little to no knowledge about radiation therapy; however, 47% reported that they had heard frightening stories about it.
  • 83% of patients reported that short-term radiotherapy side effects were less severe than or as expected, and 84% said this about long-term side effects.

A new study reveals that many patients with breast cancer have misconceptions and fears about radiation therapy, but their actual experiences with this treatment modality are better than they expected. In the study published by Shaverdian et al in Cancer, most patients agreed that their initial negative impressions were unfounded.

Over the past 20 years, there have been significant advances in how radiation therapy for breast cancer is delivered, allowing clinicians to spare critical organs, create an individual radiation plan for each patient, and deliver radiation in more convenient schedules. Nonetheless, many patients have fears and misconceptions about radiotherapy.

Study Background

To get a better sense of patients’ views concerning modern radiation therapy, a team led by Susan McCloskey, MD, MSHS, and Narek Shaverdian, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, surveyed 502 patients who were treated for breast cancer between 2012 and 2016. Among the 327 patients who responded to the survey, 83% underwent breast-conservation therapy (defined as lumpectomy and radiation therapy).

“We wanted to look at the patients’ perspective of the breast cancer radiation experience, to have tangible real-world data to guide future patients and providers in their decision-making,” said Dr. Shaverdian.

Survey Findings

Of all surveyed patients, 68% stated that they initially had little to no knowledge about radiation therapy; however, 47% reported that they had heard frightening stories about it. Only 2% of patients agreed that the negative stories they previously heard about radiation therapy were actually true. Also, 83% reported that short-term radiation side effects—such as breast pain, work limitations, and family disruptions—were less severe than or as expected, and 84% of patients said this about long-term side effects.

The survey revealed that 93% of patients who underwent breast conservation and 81% of patients who underwent mastectomy agreed with the statement, “If future patients knew the real truth about radiation therapy, they would be less scared about treatment.”

“The word radiation itself sounds frightening and is associated with many negative news stories, but the implications of this study are that, in actuality, radiation therapy for breast cancer is a much better treatment experience than perceived,” said Dr. McCloskey. “We hope these real-world data from the voices of past patients can give future patients a better understanding of modern breast radiation therapy when making treatment decisions.”

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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