An educational class developed and implemented to help prepare patients and families for their radiation therapy treatment experience has been well received overall by the 128 participants who have completed the sessions thus far, according to a presentation reported during the Oncology Nursing Society 36th Annual Congress.

More than 60% of patients with cancer receive radiation therapy at some point during the disease trajectory, noted Carol Koehler, RN, OCN®, Radiation Oncology, University Hospitals, Seidman Cancer Center, Cleveland, Ohio; however, little has been done to develop an educational program to prepare patients and families for this experience.

Based on cancer center’s successful chemotherapy classes, which found that patients who are prepared are more likely to tolerate chemotherapy, Koehler and her colleagues developed a semi-structured psycho-educational radiation therapy class. All patients starting radiation therapy received information about the class in their initial consultation as well as a personal invitation from the radiation oncology nurse and radiation therapists at the time of their first marking visit appointment.

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Classes, which are offered twice a month for approximately one hour, include an overview of the radiation treatment team and therapy, including what radiation therapy is, who is on the radiation team and their disciplines, how radiation affects cancer cells, pictures of the radiation therapy rooms and machines, and an intensive section on managing side effects, skin care, nutritional considerations, and coping strategies. Additional printed take-home resources are given to reinforce teaching. Also discussed is what to expect from the team and patient responsibilities for self-management. This intensive nursing educational session personalizes oncology care in a very high technology department, noted Koehler.

The radiation therapy class began July 2009 and evaluative prospective outcome data has been tracked for nearly 17 months. The number of participants at each class has ranged from one family to ten patients and family members. Of the 128 participants, 70.4% strongly agreed and 29.6% agreed with the statement, “I have a clear understanding of what radiation therapy is.” Additionally, 67.6% strongly agreed and 32.4% agreed with the statement, “I have a clear understanding of the side effects.”

Since the class is not mandatory, refusals to participate are also tracked and have been found to be linked to limitations with respect to the patient (eg, transportation, employment), environment (hospital vs community environment), and disease (eg, prior radiation treatment/experience or emergent treatments from inpatient).

Suggestions for improvement included extended hours, such as evenings or after work, and home-based education (eg, computer-based class). Future directions include increased opportunities for participation; transportation support from social work; and assessment of learning styles so that the presentation can be tailored to the needs of the group.