WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9, 2020 — Side effects of radiation therapy in breast cancer patients are often missed by doctors, U.S. researchers report.
“Recognizing side effects is necessary for physicians to provide supportive care to help patients manage their symptoms,” said study author Dr. Reshma Jagsi, deputy chair of the department of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan.
“Physicians sometimes miscalculate the severity of patients’ symptoms, which can lead to reduced quality of life,” she noted. “In our study, we found that physicians are more likely to miscalculate symptom severity when patients have certain characteristics, including patients who are younger and patients who are Black.
“It is possible that there is a misconception among medical professionals about the pain tolerance of patients based on age and race,” Jagsi added.
In the study, her team looked at more than 9,800 breast cancer patients treated with radiation after lumpectomy at 29 practices across Michigan.
It was common for treatment side effects such as pain, itchy skin, swelling and fatigue to go unrecognized. The chances of this happening were much higher among Black patients and younger patients, according to the study to be presented Wednesday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Of the more than 5,500 patients who reported at least one substantial side effect during radiation therapy, more than 53% had under-recognition of at least one of the four side effects.
Compared with patients aged 60-69, under-recognition of side effects was 35% more likely in patients younger than 50 and 21% more likely in patients aged 50-59.
Compared with white patients, under-recognition of side effects was 92% higher among Black patients and 82% higher among patients of races other than Black or Asian.
“Our study identifies some concerning patterns that need to be evaluated in future research, along with opportunities for intervention to improve the quality and equity of cancer care delivery,” Jagsi said in a symposium news release.
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