Background: Individuals with cancer and risky alcohol and illicit substance use (AISU) are more likely to suffer diminished quality of life and subpar treatment outcomes. The prevalence of AISU in patients with cancer is poorly understood.
Objectives: This article reports on the results of a needs assessment to quantify AISU in individuals with cancer seeking care in the radiation oncology department of a large, academic medical center.
Methods: Medical records were reviewed for all patients seen in the radiation oncology department in a one-week (five-day) period in the fall of 2014 (N = 397). Demographic and prevalence data were analyzed.
Findings: The prevalence rates of AISU in this sample were slightly lower than estimates for the general population and inconsistency was noted in the documentation of relevant information. Despite the limitations, data analyses suggested that a significant percentage of patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer diagnoses exhibited substance use patterns that placed them at increased risk for negative short- and long-term outcomes. The findings support the need for systematic substance use screening, assessment, and risk-based interventions as an essential component of comprehensive cancer care.