Palliation of Bone Metastases: A Survey of Patterns of Practice Among Canadian Radiation Oncologists

Radiother Oncol. 2000 Sep;56(3):305-14. doi: 10.1016/s0167-8140(00)00238-3.


Background: Palliative radiotherapy constitutes nearly 50% of the workload in radiotherapy. Surveys on the patterns of practice in radiotherapy have been published from North America and Europe. Our objective was to determine the current pattern of practice of radiation oncologists in Canada for the palliation of bone metastases.

Method: A survey was sent to 300 practicing radiation oncologists in Canada. Five case scenarios were presented. The first three were patients with a single symptomatic site: breast cancer patient with pelvic metastasis, lung cancer male with metastasis to L3 and L1, respectively. The last two were breast and prostate cancer patients with multiple symptomatic bone metastases.

Results: A total of 172 questionnaires were returned (57%) for a total of 860 responses. For the three cases with a single painful bone metastasis, over 98% would prescribe radiotherapy. The doses ranged from a single 8 to 30 Gy in ten fractions. Of the 172 respondents, 117 (68%) would use the same dose fractionation for all three cases, suggesting that they had a standard dose fractionation for palliative radiotherapy. The most common dose fractionation was 20 Gy in five fractions used by 84/117 (72%), and 8 Gy in one fraction by 19/117 (16%). In all five case scenarios, 81% would use a short course of radiotherapy (single 8 Gy, 17%; 20 Gy in five fractions, 64%), while 10% would prescribe 30 Gy in ten fractions. For the two cases with diffuse symptomatic bone metastases, half body irradiation (HBI) and radionuclides were recommended more frequently in prostate cancer than in breast cancer (46/172 vs. 4/172, P<0. 0001; and 93/172 vs. 10/172, P<0.0001, respectively). Strontium was the most commonly recommended radionuclide (98/103=95%). Since systemic radionuclides are not readily available in our health care system, 41/98 (42%) of radiation oncologists who would recommend strontium were not familiar with the dose. Bisphosphonates were recommended more frequently in breast cancer than in prostate cancer 13/172 (8%) vs. 1/172 (0.6%), P=0.001.

Conclusion: Local field external radiotherapy remains the mainstay of therapy, and the most common fractionation for bone metastases in Canada is 20 Gy in five fractions compared with 30 Gy in ten fractions in the US. Despite randomized trials showing similar results for single compared with fractionated radiotherapy, the majority of us still advocate five fractions. The frequency of employing a single fractionation has not changed since the last national survey in 1992. Nearly 70% use a standard dose fractionation to palliate localized painful metastasis by radiotherapy, independent of the site of involvement or tumor type. The pattern of practice of palliative radiotherapy for bone metastases in Canada is different to that reported previously from the US. The reasons why the results of randomized studies on bone metastases have no impact on the patterns of practice are worth exploring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Canada
  • Data Collection
  • Dose Fractionation, Radiation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Pain / etiology
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Radioisotopes / therapeutic use
  • Radiotherapy Dosage


  • Radioisotopes