By Bruce Haffty, MD, FASTRO, immediate past chair of ASTRO and chair of the department of radiation oncology at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
In a recent post on People.com, Real Housewife of New Jersey Amber Marchese underscored the importance of talking to her doctor about the different treatment options for fighting cancer. As Ms. Marchese recounted the story of meeting her radiation oncology team after her breast cancer returned, she illustrated how open, honest dialogue about the range of radiation therapy (RT) options and their potential side effects can ease patients’ anxiety and improve their experiences before, during and after treatment.
Here at ASTRO, we are strong proponents of dialogue between patients and providers, such as when Ms. Marchese’s team heard her concerns about the length of treatment and recommended hypofractionation as an alternative to standard treatment. This commitment to open communication can be seen, for example, in ASTRO’s involvement with the national Choosing Wisely campaign, an initiative centered on developing and distributing dialogue-starting lists of “things providers and patients should question.” Like Ms. Marchese, patients often benefit from asking their providers about the “different strategies and methods to deliver radiation therapy” for their cancer.
In the article, Ms. Marchese mentions reviewing research that was presented at ASTRO’s 56th Annual Meeting. Studies presented at our meetings are publicly available, and this example demonstrates how the work of our members can have a direct impact on patients. At ASTRO’s 57th Meeting, which was held just last month, members continued to advance the potential of radiation oncology to combat cancer, such as through studies that combine radiation therapy with immunotherapy and thus allow doctors to tailor their treatments more closely to each individual’s disease.
Ms. Marchese concludes her article by noting that “I feared radiation the most, and yet it was the easiest part” of her treatment for recurrent breast cancer. As physicians and members of the treatment team, it is up to us to educate patients about the newest and most advanced treatment options, available clinical trials, possible methods to ease side effects, and ways to increase comfort and convenience during RT. Encourage your patients to ask questions, raise concerns, and be active participants in their care.