Quality of Life and Patient-Reported Outcomes Following Proton Radiation Therapy: A Systematic Review

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2018 Apr 1;110(4). doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx208.


Background: As costs of cancer care rise, the importance of documenting value in oncology increases. Proton beam radiotherapy (PBT) has the potential to reduce toxicities in cancer patients, but is relatively expensive and unproven. Evaluating quality of life (QOL) and patient-reported outcomes (PROs) is essential to establishing PBT's "value" in oncologic therapy. The goal of this systematic review was to assess QOL and PROs in patients treated with PBT.

Methods: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA)-guided systematic searches were conducted. The PubMed search engine was the primary data source, along with publications found from references of selected articles, and articles known to the authors published through 2017. Seventeen original investigations were found to have sufficient focus and relevance to be incorporated into the systematic review.

Results: Studies of skull base (n = 1), brain (n = 1), head/neck (n = 1), lung (n = 1), breast (n = 2), prostate (n = 8), and pediatric (n = 3) malignancies treated with PBT that met eligibility criteria were included. QOL did not deteriorate during PBT for skull base and after PBT for brain tumors, respectively. PROs were higher for PBT than photon-based radiotherapy for both head/neck and lung cancer. Patient-reported breast cosmesis was appropriate after PBT and comparable to photon modalities. PBT in various settings of prostate cancer displayed an expected post-therapy decline; one study showed improved PROs (rectal urgency, bowel frequency) for PBT, and two others showed PROs/QOL comparable with other modalities. Pediatric studies demonstrated improvements in QOL during therapy, with additional increases thereafter.

Conclusions: Based on limited data, PBT provides favorable QOL/PRO profiles for select brain, head/neck, lung, and pediatric cancers; measures for prostate and breast cancers were more modest. These results have implications for cost-effective cancer care and prudently designed QOL evaluation in ongoing trials, which are discussed. Future data could substantially change the conclusions of this review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Proton Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Quality of Life*
  • Skull Base Neoplasms / radiotherapy