Negative perceptions about radiation therapy can strongly influence a prostate cancer patient’s choice to avoid external beam radiation therapy, even though studies have proven the treatment to be as safe and effective as other treatments for the disease, including surgery, according to a study presented November 5, 2006, at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology’s 48th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.
“The study shows that patients base their treatment choice not only on technical information, but also on cultural and personal prejudices,” said Riccardo Valdagni, M.D., an author of the study and head of the Prostate Programme at the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan, Italy. “It’s important for patients to express their fears about radiation treatment to their doctors and for doctors to consider these worries and address any misconceptions about this therapy so that patients can make the best, most informed decision about their treatment.”
Men with prostate cancer often choose between external beam radiation therapy, radiation seed implants and surgery to treat their cancer. During external beam radiation, a beam of radiation, or X-ray, is directed through the skin to the cancer and the immediate surrounding area to kill the cancer. To minimize side effects, radiation is given five days a week for several weeks. Many men with prostate cancer choose external beam radiation over other treatments because it is non-invasive, has a short recovery period and often helps men preserve their sexual and urinary function.
However, Dr. Valdagni’s study shows that some men with prostate cancer have definite fears about radiation treatment, with the greatest worries related to false beliefs on how the X-rays would affect them. For example, some patients think that radiation cannot be controlled because it is invisible, that it will harm surrounding unprotected organs and that it is dangerous for family members to physically be near them when undergoing radiation treatment. Patients also said that the terminology used in radiation therapy, such as the term “hitting the target,” evoked feelings more related to war than to a cure. In addition, while some patients experienced technology as reassuring, many others felt that the technologically advanced computer equipment used during radiation treatment provoked anxiety.
The study was carried out by a multidisciplinary team of doctors (urologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists and psychologists) at the Milan National Cancer Institute Prostate Cancer Program from March 2005 to March 2006. The team interviewed 257 men with prostate cancer to find out their perceptions about radiation therapy.