Article Abstract

Palliative radiotherapy utilization within a regional Australian palliative care unit

Authors: Peter Eastman, Anna Dowd, James Goonan, Helen Farrell, Graham Pitson


Background: Palliative radiotherapy has been demonstrated to be efficacious for symptom management in advanced malignancy however there are limited data investigating its use for inpatient palliative care patients. The aim of the current paper was to evaluate the utilization of radiotherapy amongst patients admitted to a regional Australian palliative care unit (PCU).
Methods: A retrospective cohort study was undertaken involving all Barwon Health PCU patients who received radiotherapy whilst an inpatient. A range of clinico-demographic, radiotherapy-specific and outcome measures were evaluated. Changes in opioid consumption were used as a surrogate for radiotherapy effectiveness. Demographic variables were analyzed descriptively and Wilcoxon Signed Rank Tests were used to compare opioid consumption before and after radiotherapy at time points one week, two weeks and three weeks.
Results: Sixty episodes of radiotherapy were provided to 51 PCU patients during the study period with 54 admissions included in the final analysis. Pain management was the commonest reason for radiotherapy treatment and most courses were multi-fractionated. Using the proportion of patients whose opioid dose decreased following radiotherapy as a marker for response, response rates ranged from 32–42%. Fortyeight percent of patients died during their PCU admission and the median survival from radiotherapy commencement was 36 days.
Conclusions: A small proportion of all patients admitted to PCU received radiotherapy. Almost half of patients died during their admission and radiotherapy response rates were lower than have been reported for all-comers. More research is needed to optimize the stratification of PCU patients for radiotherapy.