Educational videos help cancer patients become familiar with radiation therapy

Radiation_EquipmentEach year, approximately one million cancer patients undergo radiation therapy and yet many have very little understanding of how it works or what to expect. Now, a pilot study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center suggests that educational videos shown before the patients’ initial consultation with their radiation oncologist can significantly boost their understanding of the planning and treatment process.

The results of the 32-patient pilot study were recently published in the Journal of Cancer Education. Every patient in the study reported learning new information from the DVD and felt they were better prepared for radiation therapy than before they watched it. Interaction testing demonstrated that patients benefited, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity income or health literacy. When asked the three most important things that they learned, participants most often cited the importance of not missing any radiation therapy appointments, possible side effects from radiation therapy, asking questions during appointments, the need for a support system and the effects of radiation therapy on cancer cells – all very important knowledge for any patient undergoing radiation therapy for cancer.

RMatsuyama“Prior research suggests that more than half of radiation oncology patients perceive that they did not get adequate information prior to treatment, and over 83 percent of patients with treatment complications want more information,” says the study’s lead researcher Robin Matsuyama, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “Patients give informed consent during their initial consultation, and we believe that anything that helps patients understand this complex process allows them to ask more informed questions and become better prepared for the road ahead.”

Participants’ knowledge of radiation therapy and cancer care was evaluated before and after the video using a series of multiple choice questions. Additionally, prior to watching the video they were asked to complete a baseline assessment where they rated their knowledge of cancer and radiation therapy on a Likert scale. Before watching the video, 78 percent of patients rated their understanding of radiation therapy as “a little bit” or “not at all,” 91 percent reported little to no understanding of the difference between external beam radiation and brachytherapy, 81 percent had little to no understanding of the purpose of radiation tattoos, 71 percent had little to no understanding of how radiation was administered and 63 percent had little to no understanding of the role of the radiation oncologist.

After watching the video, participants got an average of 2.3 more questions correct on the multiple choice test. The most improvement was seen in patients 18-45 years old, African Americans, individuals earning below the poverty level and those with higher levels of education. The most common feedback about the video was that it could be shortened by approximately 5 minutes.

“Our study demonstrates that an educational video such as ours can significantly improve patients’ understanding of how radiation therapy works,” says Matsuyama. “We feel this could be a cost-effective way to prepare patients for their treatments, and we plan to conduct future studies in a larger sample of patients.”

Moving forward, the researchers are proposing a randomized clinical trial that will better assess the long-term effects of the video on knowledge retention, patient satisfaction and adherence to their treatments.

Matsuyama collaborated on this study with Drew Moghanaki, M.P.H., M.D., member of the Radiation Biology and Oncology research program and radiation oncologist at VCU Massey; Laurie Lyckholm, M.D., member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program and hematologist-oncologist at VCU Massey; and Anthony Molisani, a graduate student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Health at VCU School of Medicine.
Funding for this study was provided, in part, by VCU Massey Cancer Center’s NIH-NCI Cancer Center Support Grant P30 CA016059 and the American Cancer Society.

The full manuscript of this study is available online at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13187-013-0473-1