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Study finds most breast cancer patients have better experience with radiation than expected

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | March 15, 2018
Rad Oncology Radiation Therapy Women's Health
May help put fears to rest
Although the word "radiation" carries negative connotations, most who undergo modern breast radiation therapy report better experiences than expected.

Those were the findings of a study published recently in CANCER that surveyed 502 patients treated for breast cancer between 2012 and 2016.

“We wanted to survey women who had been through radiation and were at least six months out from completing treatment, to ask them about their original fears [about radiation] and to compare [that] to the actual experience,” Dr. Susan McCloskey, assistant professor of radiation oncology at UCLA, told HCB News. “We really wanted to understand patient perceptions of their radiation experience in an effort to appropriately counsel future patients.”

Among the 327 patients who responded to the survey, 83 percent underwent breast conservation therapy, which involves a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents had little or no knowledge of radiation therapy, but 47 percent did hear anxiety-inducing stories about it.

McCloskey said that when she meets with patients in the clinic to discuss how radiation can be used to treat their condition, she often starts by addressing the fears and misconceptions that the word "radiation" conjures.

She added that the fear of radiation can negatively affect treatment decisions – the patient may forego radiation when it’s recommended, or choose to undergo mastectomy when breast conservation is an equally effective and appropriate choice.

After receiving the therapy, 83 percent of the respondents stated that short-term side effects like breast pain, work limitations and family disruptions were less than or as expected. About the same amount also said that about long-term side effects.

Notably, 93 percent of breast conservation patients and 81 percent of mastectomy patients agreed that if future patients knew the real truth about radiation therapy, they would be less frightened about treatment.

“Over the last two decades there have been numerous advances in breast radiation therapy, resulting in improved accuracy, reduced toxicities and improved treatment convenience,” said McCloskey. “This is certainly a point of emphasis when we discuss radiation with patients.”

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