Goals of care discussions: perceptions of radiation and medical oncologists

Support Care Cancer. 2021 Dec;29(12):7279-7288. doi: 10.1007/s00520-021-06258-x. Epub 2021 May 25.


Background: Goals of care discussions (GOCD) are essential when counseling patients with cancer. Respective roles of radiation oncologists (RO) and medical oncologists (MO) in GOCD can be unclear. This study aims to clarify the dynamics and barriers to GOCD.

Methods: Five hundred and fifty-four ROs and 1604 MOs at NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers were sent an anonymous electronic survey regarding demographics, opinions, training in GOCD, GOCD frequency, and three vignettes. Response formats were Yes/No, Likert-type, and free response. Chi-square and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests were performed. Likert-type scores were reported as median [interquartile range].

Results: There were 76 (13.7%) RO and 153 (9.5%) MO who completed surveys. Sixty-three percent of RO and 66% of MO reported GOCD with > 50% of patients (p = 0.90). GOCD were initiated for declining performance status (74%) and poor life expectancy (69%). More MO (42%) received formal GOCD training compared to RO (18%) (p < 0.01). MO were more comfortable conducting GOCD than RO (p < 0.01). RO-conducted GOCD were rated to be less important by MO compared to RO (p < 0.05). Thirty-six percent of MO reported being "not at all" or "somewhat" comfortable with RO-conducted GOCD. RO-initiated GOCD with new patients were rated less appropriate by RO compared to MO perceptions of RO-initiated GOCD (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: While MO and RO conduct GOCD with similar frequency, MO are more comfortable conducting GOCD and are more likely to have formal training. MO rate importance of RO involvement lower than RO. Further research is needed to understand interdisciplinary dynamics that may impact GOCD and subsequent patient care outcomes.

Keywords: Goals of care; Palliation.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Oncologists*
  • Patient Care Planning
  • Perception
  • Radiation Oncologists
  • Surveys and Questionnaires