Patient Expectations About Palliative Treatment for Symptomatic Spinal Metastases: A Qualitative Study



Patients with spinal metastases often receive palliative surgery or radiation therapy to maintain or improve health-related quality of life. Patients with unrealistic expectations regarding treatment outcomes have been shown to be less satisfied with their post-treatment health status. This study evaluated expectations of patients with spinal metastases scheduled for surgery and/or radiation therapy.


Individual semistructured interviews were conducted with patients with symptomatic spinal metastases before and 6 weeks after surgery and/or radiation therapy. Expectations regarding treatment outcomes were discussed before treatment, and level of fulfillment of these pretreatment expectations was discussed after treatment. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed according to the thematic analysis method to identify themes.


Before treatment, patients thought they were not, or minimally, informed about (expected) treatment outcomes, but they felt well informed about treatment procedures and possible complications. Although patients expected pain relief and improvement in daily functioning, they found it difficult to describe any recovery timeline or the impact of these expected improvements on their daily life. Patients generally understood that treatment was not curative, but lacked insight into the impact of treatment on life expectancy given that this was hardly discussed by their surgeon and/or radiation oncologist. Pretreatment expectations regarding pain and daily functioning were only partially met in most patients post-treatment.


Patients thought they were not, or only minimally, informed about expected outcomes after surgery and/or radiation therapy for symptomatic spinal metastases. Improvements in patient-physician communication and counseling could help guide patients toward realistic pretreatment expectations.


Roxanne Gal Raphäele Charest-Morin Jorrit-Jan Verlaan Charles G. Fisher Hester Wessels Helena M. Verkooijen Anne L. Versteeg

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