The following is a summary of “Prognostic Understanding and Goals of Palliative Radiotherapy: A Qualitative Study” published in the December 2022 issue of Pain and Symptom Management by Chen et al.

There was a lack of information on patients’ expectations for the objectives of palliative radiotherapy (RT) and the general prognosis. For a study, researchers sought to investigate how patients see and prefer to be communicated about palliative RT objectives and cancer prognosis.

They used semi-structured interviews with 17 patients undergoing their first round of palliative RT at a comprehensive cancer center with either lung or bone metastases. All patient interviews were audio-recorded, verbatim transcribed, and thematically evaluated.

The main themes of palliative RT’s objectives were either restoration—improving quality of life or reducing pain, for example—or a desire to fight cancer by removing tumors. Although most patients believed that palliative RT would just relieve their symptoms, not their malignancy, some patients thought that the aim of palliative RT was to cure. Uncertainty and trepidation about the future, a focus on more treatments, and facing mortality were themes that surfaced in relation to patients’ sense of prognosis and what lies ahead. Most patients, even radiation oncologists, preferred receiving information regarding treatment objectives and prognosis from their doctors than from other medical staff members. Additionally, patients stated that they would need to write patient education materials on palliative RT.

Some patients may be motivated to undertake too aggressive cancer therapies due to unclear perceptions of the prognosis and treatment goals. Radiation oncologists, who were significant contributors to discussions on the objectives of treatment and may increase patient understanding and well-being by using restorative rather than combat-oriented language, were among the medical professionals that patients sought out for prognostic information.