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While radiation therapy can reduce pain and improve quality of life, unnecessary treatments increase costs and hospital visits, and can lead to radiation toxicity and difficulty swallowing, the researchers noted.
"This study uncovered that there's a lot of treatment of late-stage lung cancer with palliative radiation that goes beyond what is recommended by several national guidelines and multiple clinical trials," said study author Dr. Matthew Koshy, a radiation oncologist at the University of Illinois Hospital.
The researchers analyzed data from 47,000 advanced-lung cancer patients who received palliative radiation therapy -- intended to ease their symptoms but not cure them -- between 2004 and 2012. One in five also received chemotherapy at the same time, even though guidelines recommend against such dual treatment, the researchers said.
The researchers also found that nearly one-third of the patients received more than 25 radiation treatments, which is 10 more than the recommended maximum number.
Privately insured patients were 40 percent more likely than other patients to receive more than the recommended 15 radiation treatments. Overtreatment with radiation was also higher among patients treated in community cancer centers, which are clinics with no links to academic institutions, the study found.
"More education is needed for radiation oncologists, to prevent overtreatment -- which has not been proven to further improve symptoms or quality of life, and can have some significant side effects," Koshy said in a university news release.
The findings were published online Sept. 30 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of Illinois at Chicago, news release, Sept. 30, 2015