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Radiation recommended for patients with bone metastases

February 9, 2017


To reduce pain and improve quality of life, radiation treatment should be offered to patients with cancer that has spread to the bone (bone metastases), even those with poor expected survival, according to a study published today in JAMA Oncology.

The analysis, led by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre researchers through the Canadian Clinical Trials Group (CCTG), looked at pain scores in 298 patients after treatment for bone metastases to see how quickly their pain levels were affected following treatment.

Radiation is a key treatment for bone metastases. The pain caused by bone metastases is linked to a lower quality of life for patients, who are often nearing the end of life. That is why researchers sought to show that reducing pain levels through radiation treatment would positively influence their quality of life.

“The results are based on the participants’ own evaluation of their pain and quality of life after treatment,” said Dr. Janet Dancey, Director of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. “Patients willingly shared their experience with researchers to validate that the therapy will improve end-of-life care for patients and their families.”

Other studies measuring patient well-being involved fewer participants and were not specifically addressing bone metastases. This study used a quality of life questionnaire specific to bone metastases. Patients recruited from 23 Canadian centres were asked 15 questions about pain, emotional functioning, fatigue and other symptoms at day 10 and day 42 following treatment.

The study found meaningful improvements in both pain and quality of life as early as 10 days following radiation treatment, and even further improvements at day 42. 

“We are committed to improving the experience of our patients,” said Dr. Edward Chow, a professor at University of Toronto, radiation oncologist and lead of the Bone Metastases Care Team and Rapid Radiotherapy Program at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre. “These results confirm that radiation therapy for painful bone metastases can reduce pain and improve quality of life very quickly following treatment, and therefore should be offered even for those with a very limited expected survival in order to help them be more comfortable at the end of life.”

About the Canadian Cancer Trials Group
The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) is a cancer clinical trials research cooperative that runs phase I-III trials to test anti-cancer and supportive therapies in over 80 institutions across Canada and internationally. CCTG is one of the national programs of the Canadian Cancer Society and from their centre at Queen’s University, they have supported over 500 trials in over 40 countries, aimed at improving survival rates and quality of life for all people with cancer.


Alexis Dobranowski
Communications Advisor
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
416-480-6100 ext. 4349