Vulnerable Populations Receiving Palliative Radiation in a Children's Hospital: Reporting on the Underreported


Vulnerable Populations Receiving Palliative Radiation in a Children's Hospital: Reporting on the Underreported


Wong K; Hwang L; Liu K X; Lee H J; Olch A J


International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics




adult; anesthesia; Asia; cancer radiotherapy; central nervous system tumor; child; conference abstract; controlled study; death; electronic medical record; employer; female; follow up; fraud; housing; human; immigration; lowest income group; major clinical study; male; medical record review; mental stress; neuroblastoma; organization; pain; poverty; race; radiation oncologist; radiotherapy; retrospective study; rhabdomyosarcoma; school child; South and Central America; terminal care; vulnerable population; young adult


Purpose/Objective(s): Few studies have examined the use of palliative radiation therapy (RT) in the pediatric population. This single institution study is one of the largest series reported of palliative RT practice patterns prior to and within the last month of life with a focus on vulnerable and underserved pediatric patients. Materials/Methods: A retrospective chart review of patients treated from 2008-2017 identified patients treated with radiotherapy with palliative intent. Demographic, diagnosis, and treatment parameters were collected from the electronic medical records. Vital status was recorded at date of death or last follow-up. Vulnerable patients were defined as belonging to a minority, adolescent and young adult (AYA), special needs, or low income population. Result(s): Of the 1092 patients treated with RT, 108 were identified as having received 227 treatments with palliative intent. Forty-five patients (42%) were female and 63 (58%) were male. The median age at the time of the first course of radiation was 11 years (range 0-25). Central nervous system (CNS) disturbance was the most common indication (n=50, 46%) followed by pain (n=44, 41%). Top primary diagnoses included CNS neoplasm (n=30, 37%), neuroblastoma (n=20, 19%), and rhabdomyosarcoma or other sarcoma (n=11, 10%). Forty-four percent were treated with anesthesia for at least one course of radiation. The median time from last course of RT to date of last follow-up was 3 months (range 0-105), and 25 patients (23%) received radiation in the last month of life. Eighty-two (76%) patients were deceased at time of review. The vulnerable constituted the overwhelming majority of the 108, only 13 (11.5%) were not. Patients were classified in the following individual categories: minority (n=90, 83.3%), AYA (n=34, 30%), special needs (n=10, 8.8%), or low income (n=70, 62%). Eight patients initially came seeking cancer treatment not available in Asia or Latin America. Latinos (n=66, 61%) were numerous and diverse, 12% were mixed race, and 18% had employer-based coverage. The most common vulnerable patients were Latin children from low income families (n=40, 35%). Obstacles to care included the immigration system, limited English, discrimination, cultural barriers, and poverty with job, transportation, and housing insecurity. Safety net and charitable organizations had scarce resources and rules intended to reduce fraud and abuse further limited access. Parents reported these challenges amplified the great psychological distress felt after the death of a child. Conclusion(s): This is the first report to document the vulnerable pediatric and AYA population receiving palliative radiation therapy at a large urban hospital. Almost a quarter of patients received treatment in the last month of life. Most commonly, a vulnerable child was Latinx from a low income family. Further investigation is needed to guide radiation oncologists on the delivery of optimal end-of-life care and address barriers to care in this population. Copyright © 2019


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Wong K; Hwang L; Liu K X; Lee H J; Olch A J, “Vulnerable Populations Receiving Palliative Radiation in a Children's Hospital: Reporting on the Underreported,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed September 26, 2023,