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Radiotherapy modality patient education: differentiating between photon and proton external beam therapy for prostate cancer

At large centers there may be multiple modality radiation therapy treatments available to patients. The selection of radiotherapy modality depends on many factors and is typically determined through discussion between the physician and the patient. Physics has the potential to play a larger role in both enhancing a patient’s understanding of their selected radiotherapy modality as well as providing more information so that patients can make the most educated decisions about a critical component of their cancer treatment.

The physics-patient communication initiative has the aim of introducing the patient to the role of the medical physicist and providing a basic and structured understanding of radiotherapy. Patients who feel they are empowered to make decisions to contribute to their own care are hypothesized to have better outcomes. The array of radiotherapy modalities at our center includes photon external beam therapy, brachytherapy, and particle therapy. We propose increasing the level of physics involvement in patient care to include discussions of the different radiotherapy techniques, at an appropriate level of depth as guided by the patient, so that patients may have a better understanding of their radiation treatment and how it differs from other types of radiation treatments they may have read about. This could be particularly impactful when patients demand a greater understanding of why they may not have been a candidate for a technique not suited to their specific situation.

Our center has prepared materials (see image) and intends to launch a pilot study for physics consults targeted towards prostate cancer patients. We have specifically focused on differentiating between proton and photon external beam therapy. For the purpose of the workshop, we are interested in sharing our vision and initial experiences on physics-patient consults prior to physician consult.

Patient Education drawing to compare photon external beam prostate therapy to proton therapy