How Radiation Oncologists Evaluate and Incorporate Life Expectancy Estimates Into the Treatment of Palliative Cancer Patients: A Survey-Based Study


We surveyed how radiation oncologists think about and incorporate a palliative cancer patient’s life expectancy (LE) into their treatment recommendations. A 41-item survey was e-mailed to 113 radiation oncology attending physicians and residents at radiation oncology centers within the Boston area. Physicians estimated how frequently they assessed the LE of their palliative cancer patients and rated the importance of 18 factors in formulating LE estimates. For 3 common palliative case scenarios, physicians estimated LE and reported whether they had an LE threshold below which they would modify their treatment recommendation. LE estimates were considered accurate when within the 95% confidence interval of median survival estimates from an established prognostic model. Among 92 respondents (81%), the majority were male (62%), from an academic practice (75%), and an attending physician (70%). Physicians reported assessing LE in 91% of their evaluations and most frequently rated performance status (92%), overall metastatic burden (90%), presence of central nervous system metastases (75%), and primary cancer site (73%) as “very important” in assessing LE. Across the 3 cases, most (88%–97%) had LE thresholds that would alter treatment recommendations. Overall, physicians’ LE estimates were 22% accurate with 67% over the range predicted by the prognostic model. Physicians often incorporate LE estimates into palliative cancer care and identify important prognostic factors. Most have LE thresholds that guide their treatment recommendations. However, physicians overestimated patient survival times in most cases. Future studies focused on improving LE assessment are needed.

International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics