Radiation Therapy — Don't Miss It

Cancer patients who miss radiation therapy appointments may be more likely to have negative outcomes

(RxWiki News) If you need radiation therapy, it may be better not to miss any of your appointments.

At least that's what researchers from Montefiore Medical Center in New York City are saying. In a new study, these researchers found that cancer patients who missed two or more radiation therapy sessions were more likely to have tumor recurrence than those who stayed on schedule.

Study co-author Madhur Garg, MD, a radiation oncologist at Montefiore, said in a press release, "This study shows that the health of our patients can improve only when a course of treatment is completed in the prescribed period of time. These findings should serve as a wake-up call to physicians, patients and their caregivers about the critical need to adhere to a recommended treatment schedule."

Once radiation therapy is started, tumors can regrow quickly. The treatment schedule is planned with this in mind. Missing a treatment can increase the risk of tumor regrowth that cannot be controlled by the remaining treatments.

For their study, Dr. Garg and colleagues looked at 1,227 patients scheduled for radiation therapy between 2007 and 2012. These patients had head, neck, breast, lung, cervix, uterus or rectal cancers.

Twenty-two percent of the patients missed two or more scheduled radiation therapy appointments.

All patients did eventually receive all of their scheduled treatments, but treatment time was prolonged by an average of one week in those who missed appointments.

Patients who stayed on schedule had a cancer recurrence rate of 7 percent. By comparison, patients who missed two or more appointments had a recurrence rate of 16 percent. Head, neck and cervical cancer patients were the most likely to experience recurrence.

Researchers said cancer patients may not comply with scheduled radiation for a variety of reasons, such as transportation, child care or mental health issues.

Dr. Garg and colleagues said they plan to evaluate mood disorder management as one strategy to combat this problem. Other strategies under study include developing patient navigator programs and increasing transportation assistance. Patient navigator programs provide designated staff to help patients find their way in the hospital and keep their appointments on time.

The study was published Feb. 9 in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
February 11, 2016