Readability of Patient Education Materials in Radiation Oncology—Are We Improving?

Michael K. Rooney, Sean Sachdev, John Byun, Reshma Jagsi, Daniel W. Golden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose: Prior research suggests that patient education materials on radiation therapy from various professional groups are written at reading levels above national recommendations of sixth to eighth grade. Since publication of these initial findings, many materials from these sources have been updated or newly created. However, the extent to which readability was considered in the design of these new documents remains unknown. Therefore, the goal of this investigation was to evaluate readability of online education materials for radiation therapy, comparing readability of updated materials with those included in the previous study. Methods and Materials: Patient education materials related to radiation oncology were identified from websites of the 3 professional societies used in the original investigation (the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, and the American Society for Radiation Oncology). The documents included in the first analysis were used as a comparator. To allow for accurate evaluation across groups, materials were matched by content; when necessary, documents were combined from the original cohort to create topically equivalent materials to reflect those currently available on society websites. Identified materials were analyzed using 7 validated readability indices, and results are reported in grade-level equivalents. Original materials were also reanalyzed with the same method. Results: American Cancer Society materials had the lowest average baseline levels (9.4-11.3 grade level) and showed improved readability in the more recent materials (8.0-10.5 grade level). By contrast, the American Society for Radiation Oncology materials had high average baseline readability levels (11.1-13.9 grade level) that actually worsened in the more recent materials (11.7-16.2 grade level). The number of documents meeting national recommendations did not improve in the updated cohort. Conclusion: Despite evidence that readability levels of patient education materials in radiation oncology are unacceptably high, the readability of newly created materials is not consistently improving across professional societies. Although certain groups may incorporate readability in the design of educational documents, more consistent consideration across all organizations is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-440
Number of pages6
JournalPractical Radiation Oncology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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