Prognostic Understanding and Goals of Palliative Radiotherapy: A Qualitative Study



      There is a paucity of data describing patients’ expectations of goals of palliative radiotherapy (RT) and overall prognosis.


      To explore patients’ perceptions of and preferences for communication surrounding goals of palliative RT and cancer prognosis.


      We conducted a qualitative study utilizing semi-structured interviews with seventeen patients with either bone or lung metastases receiving their first course of palliative RT at a comprehensive cancer center. All patient interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analyzed.


      Themes of goals of palliative RT centered on either restoration, such as through improving quality of life or minimizing pain, or on a desire to combat cancer by eliminating tumor. While most patients perceived that palliative RT would palliate symptoms but not cure their cancer, some patients believed that the goal of palliative RT was to cure. Themes that emerged surrounding patients’ understanding of prognosis and what lies ahead included uncertainty and apprehension about the future, a focus on additional treatment, and confronting mortality. Most patients preferred to receive information about goals of treatment and prognosis from their doctors, including radiation oncologists, rather than other members of the medical team. Patients also expressed a desire for written patient education materials on palliative RT.


      Unclear perceptions of goals of treatment and prognosis may motivate some patients to pursue unnecessarily aggressive cancer treatments. Patients desire prognostic information from their doctors, including radiation oncologists, who are important contributors to goals of care discussions and may improve patient understanding and well-being by using restorative rather than combat-oriented language.

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