Palliative radiation therapy for pediatric patients: Parental perceptions


Palliative radiation therapy for pediatric patients: Parental perceptions


Lee BKY; Apkon D; Wolfe J; Marcus KJ


International Journal Of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics




Perception; Analgesia; Brain; Breathing; Cancer Staging; Child; Comfort; Disease Course; Expectation; Female; Human; Institutional Review; Male; Palliative Therapy; Prevention; Prospective Study; Quality Of Life; Questionnaire; Radiotherapy; Spinal Cord Compression; Statistics


Purpose/Objective(s): Palliative radiation therapy (pRT) for pediatric cancer patients is often used to treat pain, neurologic symptoms, and other conditions from progressive cancer that affects quality of life. However, though the doses used are generally lower than those used for curative treatment, pRT may still introduce undesirable side effects. A parent's decision to pursue additional anti-cancer therapy towards the end of their child's life may be challenging, as the perceived risk-versus-benefit ratio may be altered depending on their knowledge and expectations for the pRT. As anti-cancer directed treatment continues to be offered, the line between curing and palliation may become blurred. The goal of this study was to explore parental perceptions of pRT with regards to its purpose and expected outcome. Purpose/Objective(s): Forty-five children referred for pRT were enrolled in a prospective institutional review board-approved study. At the time of initial consultation, parents were counseled regarding the indication for pRT and the expected outcomes of treatment. At one to three months after treatment completion, a questionnaire was given to parents to assess their understanding of the role of pRT for their child. They were asked to specify the reasons for pRT as well as their expectations of the treatment outcome. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the results of the questionnaire. Results: The main indications for pRT in this cohort were pain (44%), spinal cord compression (3%), neurologic symptoms from brain mass (18%), leptomeningeal involvement (3%), asymptomatic radiologic progression (18%), and other indications (13%). When asked about the reasons for pRT in their child, parents reported the following: pain relief (51%), addressing new disease such as radiologic progression (40%), prevention of damage to spinal cord (11%), and help with breathing (2%). 49% listed additional reasons, including control of existing tumors or prevention of pain (as opposed to pain control). When asked about their expectations for the pRT, 76% of parents marked improvement in quality of life. An equal proportion (76%) also expected prolongation of their child's life. 53% included pain relief as one of their expectations. Interestingly, 40% of parents expected the pRT to also cure their child's malignant disease. Conclusion: Radiation therapy is an important modality in palliative care for children with end-stage cancer. Improved quality of life through pRT sometimes blurs the distinction between palliative and curative intent of the treatment. In this study, we found that a large proportion of parents perceived pRT to play a curative role for their child's malignancy, despite having been informed initially that the treatment was palliative. Thus, many parents seem to derive hope and comfort from having their child continue to receive some active treatment. Studies are ongoing to determine parents' assessment of whether pRT did achieve what they had hoped for their child.


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Lee BKY; Apkon D; Wolfe J; Marcus KJ, “Palliative radiation therapy for pediatric patients: Parental perceptions,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed December 4, 2023,