Compliance with Radiation Schedules Improves Survival in Head and Neck Cancer

A study, published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics, reports that patients with head and neck cancer who comply with their scheduled radiation treatments have significantly improved outcomes compared to those who miss two or more of their appointments within the prescribed time period. 

Radiation therapy is often an integral component of treatment regimens for head and neck cancer.  For patients whose cancer has not spread to distant sites in the body, radiation therapy may be particularly beneficial by killing cancer cells before they have a chance to spread. 

The research also suggests that this noncompliance to scheduled treatments may represent a new behavioral biomarker for identifying high-risk patients who require additional interventions to achieve optimal care outcomes. 

For the study, investigators at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care and Albert Einstein Cancer Center evaluated 1,227 patients scheduled for courses of external beam radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck, breast, lung, cervix uterus or rectum from 2007 to 2012.  Two hundred twenty six of these patients (22 percent) were noncompliant (i.e., they missed two or more scheduled radiation therapy appointments).  All patients eventually completed the radiation therapy course planned for them.  The radiation therapy course for noncompliant patients was prolonged for an average of one week compared with compliant patients.  Nevertheless, 16 percent of noncompliant patients later experienced a recurrence of their cancers versus only a 7 percent recurrence rate for compliant patients. 

“This study shows that the health of our patients can improve only when a course of treatment is completed in the prescribed period of time,” said Madhur Garg, M.D., clinical director, Department of Radiation Oncology, MECCC and professor of clinical radiation oncology at Einstein.  “These findings should serve as a wakeup call to physicians, patients and their caregivers about the critical need to adhere to a recommended treatment schedule.” 

The physicians and staff at Commonwealth Newburyport Cancer Center understand that your time is important.  Scheduling can be one of the challenges of radiation treatment, but we are here to try to help you keep to your normal day-to-day routine during radiation therapy.  Appointments are generally short, and the staff will try to give you a daily appointment time that is as convenient as possible for you. 

If you, or a loved one, have been diagnosed with cancer and you have questions, please contact Commonwealth Newburyport Cancer Center today