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Relationships between family physicians’ referral for palliative radiotherapy, knowledge of indications for radiotherapy, and prior training: a survey of rural and urban family physicians

Robert A Olson123*, Sonca Lengoc1, Scott Tyldesley13, John French1, Colleen McGahan1 and Jenny Soo1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiation Therapy, BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver Centre, Vancouver, Canada

2 Department of Radiation Therapy, BC Cancer Agency, Centre for the North, Prince George, Canada

3 Department of Surgery, Division of Radiation Oncology and Developmental Radiotherapeutics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

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Radiation Oncology 2012, 7:73  doi:10.1186/1748-717X-7-73

Published: 18 May 2012



The primary objective of this research was to assess the relationship between FPs’ knowledge of palliative radiotherapy (RT) and referral for palliative RT.


1001 surveys were sent to FPs who work in urban, suburban, and rural practices. Respondents were tested on their knowledge of palliative radiotherapy effectiveness and asked to report their self-assessed knowledge.


The response rate was 33%. FPs mean score testing their knowledge of palliative radiotherapy effectiveness was 68% (SD = 26%). The majority of FPs correctly identified that painful bone metastases (91%), airway obstruction (77%), painful local disease (85%), brain metastases (76%) and spinal cord compression (79%) can be effectively treated with RT, though few were aware that hemoptysis (42%) and hematuria (31%) can be effectively treated. There was a linear relationship between increasing involvement in palliative care and both self-assessed (p < 0.001) and tested (p = 0.02) knowledge. FPs had higher mean knowledge scores if they received post-MD training in palliative care (12% higher; p < 0.001) or radiotherapy (15% higher; p = 0.002). There was a strong relationship between FPs referral for palliative radiotherapy and both self-assessed knowledge (p < 0.001) and tested knowledge (p = 0.01).


Self-assessed and tested knowledge of palliative RT is positively associated with referral for palliative RT. Since palliative RT is underutilized, further research is needed to assess whether family physician educational interventions improve palliative RT referrals. The current study suggests that studies could target family physicians already in practice, with educational interventions focusing on hemostatic and other less commonly known indications for palliative RT.

Cancer; Palliative radiotherapy; Family physician; Education; Knowledge; Palliative care