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Palliative radiotherapy: what do nurses know?

10 October 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 18



palliative radiotherapy can improve quality of life for patients who are symptomatic of advanced cancers. However, this treatment modality is underused and is often mistimed, which negates its potential benefit.


the aim of this study was to assess nursing knowledge of palliative radiotherapy in the context of caring for patients with a cancer diagnosis.


a quantitative method of research was employed using a questionnaire to assess palliative radiotherapy knowledge among a purposive sample of 162 oncology and palliative care nurses.


the response rate was 48.14%. More than half of respondents reported their knowledge of radiotherapy as insufficient for their practice and almost all agreed they would benefit from more education.


nurses require more training to identify when palliative radiotherapy would be an effective symptom control option; specific areas of focus for developing future radiotherapy educational programmes are highlighted.

Palliative radiotherapy is an effective modality of treatment for patients with advanced cancer for a wide range of distressing symptoms such as painful bone metastases, bleeding from tumour sites, dyspnoea caused by central airway obstruction and neurological compromise caused by spinal cord compression and brain metastases (Lutz, 2016). However, in reality, palliative radiotherapy continues to be underused (Lutz et al, 2004) and is frequently offered at too late a stage in the disease trajectory to realise the benefits intended (Berger et al, 2014). Lutz and Chow (2014) deemed research and education in palliative radiation oncology essential to maintain the connection between advanced radiation technology and the humanitarian skills required for palliative care. Ireland's Health Service Executive (Hollywood, 2003) recognised that oncology and palliative care nurses are vital multidisciplinary team members in the provision of radiation treatment, and have an integral part to play in the clinical care of patients who are both receiving and recovering from radiation. Likewise, Berrang and Samant (2008) acknowledged that nurses are the health professionals who care for patients on a day-to-day basis and therefore require the knowledge and skills to identify those that may benefit from referral. While nurses are not permitted as yet to independently refer patients for radiotherapy, as members of the multidisciplinary team, they can advocate for a patient who may benefit from palliative radiotherapy and use their knowledge to contribute to a registered medical practitioner's decision to refer them to radiation oncology.

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