Patient Perceptions in a Nonblinded Randomized Trial of Radiation Therapy Technologies: A Novel Survey Study Exploring Therapeutic Misconception

Dean A. Shumway, Amy Motomura, Kent A. Griffith, James A. Hayman, Lori J. Pierce, Reshma Jagsi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Therapeutic misconception is the tendency for a clinical trial participant to overlook the scientific objective of a clinical trial and instead believe that an experimental intervention is intended for personal therapeutic benefit. We sought to evaluate this tendency in the setting of a clinical trial of a new radiation therapy technology. Methods: Patients with left-sided, node positive breast cancer enrolled in a randomized clinical trial evaluating intensity modulated radiation therapy with deep inspiration breath hold (IMRT-DIBH) versus 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3DCRT). Patients who enrolled completed surveys at baseline, after randomization, and upon completion of radiation therapy to evaluate expectations, satisfaction, and experiences. Results: Forty women participated in the survey study, with 20 in each arm. Most participants endorsed the perception that participation in the trial might result in better treatment than the current standard treatment (77%) and more medical attention than being off trial (54%). At baseline, most women (74%) believed that a new treatment technology is superior than an established one. Before randomization, 43% of participants believed IMRT-DIBH would be more effective than standard treatment with 3DCRT, none believed that 3DCRT would be more effective, 23% believed that they would be the same, and 34% did not know. None believed that IMRT-DIBH would cause worse long-term side effects, whereas 37% thought that 3DCRT would. Most (71%) reported that they would choose to be treated with IMRT-DIBH; none would have elected 3DCRT if given a choice. Nearly half (44%) in the 3DCRT arm wished that they had been assigned to the IMRT-DIBH arm; none in the IMRT-DIBH arm expressed a wish for crossover. Conclusions: Most participants reported the perception that trial participation would result in better treatment and more medical attention than off trial, hallmarks of therapeutic misconception. Our observations provide empirical evidence of a fixed belief in the superiority of new technology and highlight the importance of adjusting expectations through informed consent to mitigate therapeutic misconception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)867-875
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 15 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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