For GPs

Breast Cancer Patients’ Radiation Therapy Fears ‘Unfounded’, Study Shows

01 Mar 2018

A study has found almost total agreement from breast cancer patients surveyed that radiation therapy was not as ‘scary’ as they thought beforehand and their fears over their treatment had proved to be misguided.

The study, led by a team from the University of California Los Angeles, also discovered that more than four-fifths of those questioned said the overall severity and long-term side effects of their radiation therapy treatment were not as bad as they had feared.

It also concluded that patients’ experiences with breast cancer radiation therapy treatment appear to be better than envisaged and that their initial negative impressions and concerns about the treatment proved “unfounded”.

The study has found patients’ fears about radiation therapy proved unfounded.

The study, published in a peer reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society and entitled ‘The Patient’s Perspective on Breast Radiation Therapy: Initial Fears and Expectations vs. Reality’, aimed to examine patients’ perspectives and beliefs about radiation therapy and to “better inform future patients and providers”.

It attempted to assess 502 patients who underwent breast radiation therapy treatment between 2012 and 2016, although only 327 patients responded.

Of those who responded, 83% underwent breast conservation therapy – identified as lumpectomy and radiation therapy – to treat their cancer.

Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) said they had heard “frightening” stories about radiation therapy before they started treatment, while almost 70% said they had “little to no knowledge” about radiation therapy.

About 92 per cent of the patients treated with breast conservation and 81 per cent of patients who underwent a mastectomy agreed with the statement, “If future patients knew the real truth about radiation therapy, they would be less scared about treatment”. Only two per cent of the patients agreed that the negative stories they previously heard about radiation therapy proved to hold weight after completing their treatment.

“Breast RT (radiation therapy) is associated with misconceptions and fears,” the study’s conclusion noted. “Patients’ experiences with modern breast RT appear to be superior to expectations and the majority of patients in the current study agreed that their initial negative impressions were unfounded.”

More information on the study is available here.

The best person to discuss radiation therapy for breast cancer is a radiation oncologist.  Breast cancer patients can ask their surgeon or general practitioner for a referral to a radiation oncologist for a discussion about whether radiation therapy is a suitable treatment option for them.

An estimated 18,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Australia during 2018, with about 3000 cases expected in New Zealand.

For more information on how radiation therapy can help diagnose and treat breast cancer, click here.

For information on treatment options for breast cancer, click here.