Palliation and supportive care in radiation medicine

Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2006 Feb;20(1):187-211. doi: 10.1016/j.hoc.2006.01.010.


The treatment of bone metastases represents a paradigm for evaluating palliative care in terms of symptom relief, toxicities of therapy, and the financial burden to the patient, caregivers, and society. Despite enormous expenditures to treat metastases, patients continue to sustain symptoms of the disease, and uninterrupted aggressive therapies are pursued until death that incur toxicity in approximately 25% of patients. This approach is inconsistent with the goals of palliative care, which should efficiently provide comfort using antineoplastic therapies or supportive care approaches to the patient with the fewest treatment-related side effects, recognizing that the patient will die of the disease.The development of therapies such as bisphosphonates is important in advancing options for palliative care; however, clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of bisphosphonates have not addressed important issues for clinical practice. The primary study endpoints should primarily address pertinent patient outcomes such as pain relief rather than asymptomatic radiographic findings. These studies should define clear indications of when to start and stop the therapy, the appropriate patient populations to receive the therapy, and the cost effectiveness of the treatment relative to other available therapies such as radiation. Cost-utility analyses, which account for a broader domain of cost effectiveness, need to be performed as part of clinical trials, especially for palliative care endpoints. Clinical trials that include these criteria are critical to future practice guideline development. As health care resources continue to become more limited, the criteria for care must be better defined to avoid administration of therapy with limited benefit. Leadership must come from the specialty as clinical trials and clinical practice increasingly interface with health care policy. Goals of therapy must remain clear for the benefit of the individual and all patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms* / complications
  • Bone Neoplasms* / economics
  • Bone Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Bone Neoplasms* / secondary
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / economics
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / trends
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diphosphonates / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care* / economics
  • Palliative Care* / methods
  • Palliative Care* / trends


  • Diphosphonates