March 2, 2018

Unplanned Breaks in Radiation Treatment Heighten Risk of Cancer Recurrence

Patients who miss radiation treatment appointments are at a greater risk of recurrence than those who don’t. The authors of the study Radiotherapy Noncompliance and Clinical Outcomes in an Urban Academic Cancer Center (published by Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology) found patients who missed two or more appointments had a cancer recurrence rate two times greater than those who came to each appointment.

“This study shows that the health of our patients can improve only when a course of treatment is completed in the prescribed period of time,” said Madhur Garg, M.D., one of the authors and clinical director of Radiation Oncology for Morntefiore. “These findings should serve as a wakeup call to physicians, patients and their caregivers about the critical need to adhere to a recommended treatment schedule.”

Why patients skip radiation treatment appointments

On average, patients will travel to their treatment facility 5 days a week for several weeks, not an easy challenge for someone already sick. Patients often rely on the family members, friends, or transportation service to get to and from treatment. It’s a huge commitment.

Cancer survivor - Armandina Muñoz from Del Rio, Texas - shared her story with Uvalde Leader News. “[I] started chemotherapy once a week here in Uvalde. Then I needed 30 radiation treatments. My sister-in-law took me to my chemotherapy treatments but it was hard for her to take off from work.”

Zach Bolster and his family drove Gloria Bolster (his mother) to each treatment when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “My family was shocked by how many cancer patients had difficulty getting to their chemotherapy treatments,” he told People Magazine. “We soon realized what a huge financial and family burden transportation during cancer treatments can be. Some patients resorted to riding the bus, others, unfortunately, missed their treatment altogether.”

Keeping cancer patients in track with treatments by taking to the streets

Kate Marmion Rides to Radiation serves 9 counties in SW Texas (Dimmit, Edwards, Kinney, Maverick, Medina, Real, Uvalde, Val Verde and Zavala). The foundation is in its sixth year of service and has transported over 245 patients at the Clear Springs Center for Cancer Care in Uvalde - the same center that treated Armandina.

The van service was life changing for Armandina. “When I found out that the van could pick me up it was such a relief. I was able to sleep after I learned of the service. The van has been great and the drivers are courteous and are always on time. There are so many things I would like to say to the donors, please keep on giving to the service; it took a big load off of me.”

Sheri Rutledge, executive director of the Kate Marmion Rides to Radiation Foundation stated “It is amazing how something as simple as a van service eases financial and logistical worries and provides patients independence at a time when they are their most vulnerable. These are patients that cannot afford to drive to their daily appointments, don’t have access to transportation, or are fatigued, sick and often at risk of infection, making public transportation a risk. Donations fund the operation of two vans that transport them to their treatments in Uvalde.”

Gloria Bolster passed away in December of 2016 but the impact of what he’d seen stayed with Zach. He began volunteering as a driver for cancer patients. After a while, he decided that he could do more.

He and his wife, Patricia, quit their jobs in New York and founded ChemoCars, a company integrates Uber and Lyft services to get cancer patients rides to and from their treatments for free. Donations sponsor each ride and though they are only available in surrounding area of Charlotte, NC, their dream is to bring the program nationwide. So far, they’ve given away over 1,700 rides.

Sometimes it takes a little gumption from a patient advocate like Amy Regenstreiff. “I founded a support group at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles a few years ago and met a gentleman in his sixties. He was going through a new type of chemo. He couldn't drive and he couldn't get the medical van to take him back and forth. He did have a friend to drive him but neither of them had a car. I called a local rental car company and said, ‘This gentleman has Stage 4 cancer and needs chemo. What can you do for us about a car?’ For six months they gave him a car for $10 so for two days a week his friend could drive him back and forth.”

Where the rubber meets the road – how you can help

There are a few ways you can help patients.

Some treatment centers are taking a look at their protocols and asking patients if they have a ride and coordinating with local ride services.

Others volunteer with a national service like the American Cancer Society which provides a volunteer driver service.

Whether you donate, volunteer as a driver, or start your own company, anything you do helps to lower the rate of recurrence and ensure a successful and effective treatment.


Related Articles: 

The Four Essential Prongs of a Cancer Survivorship Program

Coping Financially with Breast Cancer

Calculating the Cost of Cancer Care

​Fighting Cancer in the Republic of Georgia


Jonathan McCullough
Product Manager
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