Survey: Patients With Breast Cancer Surprised by Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

09/30/17

A recent survey found that 90% of patients treated with radiation therapy for breast cancer found their experiences to be less “scary” than anticipated.

Results of the survey were presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting (September 24-27, 2017; San Diego, CA).

A group of researchers led by Narek Shaverdian, MD, radiation oncology resident, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, sent surveys to all patients who received treatment for breast cancer at the University-affiliated multidisciplinary breast cancer clinic between 2012 and 2016. Among the 327 responders, 82% underwent breast conserving surgery, 13% had axillary dissection, 37% received chemotherapy, and 70% received endocrine therapy. All patients received radiation therapy in some capacity.

Survey questions addressed fears and beliefs about breast cancer treatment and adverse events, as well as how the actual experience compared to initial expectations. Patients were asked if treatment side effects were as expected, worse than expected, or better than expected.

Results of the survey showed that 90% of respondents found radiation therapy to be less “scary” than expected. Short-term and long-term effects were reported better than expected or as expected for 83% and 84% of respondents, respectively. Patients also reported that side effects were less severe than or as expected for both short-term and long-term effects.

Approximately 94% of patients admitted that they were initially fearful of receiving radiation therapy. Among the most reported fears were damage to internal organs (40%), skin burning (24%), and becoming radioactive (7%).

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Researchers reported that a small number of patients confirmed their negative predisposition to radiation therapy. Eight women (3%) found the negative stories they previously read about radiation to be true, and six women (2%) found the negative stories they heard from family and friends to be true.

However, nine in ten respondents agreed that “After treatment, I now realize that radiation therapy is not as bad as they say it is.”

“We hope that these data, which reflect the voices of past breast cancer patients, can help to counsel future patients and their physicians on the actualities of the modern breast radiation therapy experience,” said Dr Shaverdian in his presentation. “Patients who have received this treatment provide the most credible account of its actual impact, and their accounts show that outdated, negative stereotypes of breast radiation are almost universally found to be untrue.”—Zachary Bessette