To prescribe or not to prescribe? Perceptions of radiation therapists prescribing medications for common radiation therapy side effects Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    During radiation therapy treatments patients may require medications to manage radiation toxicities. Since patients are assessed daily by Radiation Therapists (RTs) it would be optimal and timely for patients to receive medication prescriptions for relief of common radiation side effects from the RTs.


    The purpose of this study was to determine the perceptions that RTs and Radiation Oncologists (ROs) have of frontline treatment RTs prescribing medications to patients for treatment-related side effects.


    A qualitative and quantitative survey consisting of twenty-five questions on a five-point Likert scale, one open-ended question, and three demographic questions was designed. While the survey sought to examine the perceptions that RTs and ROs have of RTs prescribing medications, the survey also proposed eight different medications that RTs could potentially prescribe. The medications that were proposed are commonly prescribed to radiation therapy patients and included anti-emetic, topical anti-bacterial, hydrocortisone cream, topical anaesthetic, anti-diarrheal, anti-spasmodic, urinary analgesic and anti-fungal medications. After the survey was approved by the Research Ethics Board, RTs and ROs at a large, academic cancer centre were invited to complete the survey. To analyze the survey results, several statistical tests were performed separately for the RTs' surveys and the ROs' surveys. The chi-squared test was used to determine if the sample RT and RO populations were representative of the actual RT and RO populations (p < 0.05). Additionally, the Sign test for medians was used to analyze statistically the responses to the Likert scale questions (p < 0.05), while the Kruskal-Wallis test was used to compare the responses to the Likert scale questions across the demographic groups identified in the demographic questions (p < 0.05).


    The response rate was 34% (31/90) for the RT population and 42% (10/24) for the RO population. The statistical analysis of the RT population's surveys showed that the majority of the RTs shared positive perceptions towards having RTs prescribe medications, while some respondents highlighted negative perceptions in the open-ended qualitative question. The majority of the RTs agreed that RTs should prescribe five of the eight proposed medications, excluding anti-spasmodic, urinary analgesic, and anti-fungal medications. In contrast to the RTs, there was no statistically significant consensus from the ROs on RTs prescribing medications. Furthermore, the ROs had varying opinions on RTs prescribing the eight proposed medications.


    Although the sample size in this study was small, the results from the RT population's surveys supported RTs prescribing medications. The positive results from the RTs and the equivocal response from the ROs suggest that future research should be conducted. Additionally, a future pilot study could be implemented where RTs prescribe one or more of the five medications that were supported to prescribe by the RTs. By having RTs prescribe medications to patients in a pilot study, the effectiveness on patient care could be measured.


publication date

  • December 2021