Too many Australians are missing out on the cancer treatment they need

Thanks to advocacy led by RTAG, the Australian government has allocated $63 million to build radiation therapy treatment centres in 13 locations across regional Australia.

RTAG welcomes politicians’ timely recognition of the value of radiation therapy in treating cancer and the importance of ensuring regional patients have reasonable access to treatment they need. In light of the funding announcement, it is more important than ever that RTAG continues to educate and inform the public on the benefits of radiation therapy as a treatment for many types of cancer.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation Therapy is the delivery of focussed, high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, protons, neutrons or other sources in the treatment of cancer.

It is extremely safe, clinically precise, and reduces damage to healthy cells. It does not make the patient radioactive or cause lasting damage to healthy cells.

Radiation therapy damages cancer cells by destroying tumor DNA. Cancerous cells are more susceptible to radiation than healthy, non-cancerous cells.

Radiation therapy is a safe, effective, non-invasive and cost-effective treatment for many types of cancer.

The treatment can be delivered outside the body (external beam radiation therapy) or from within or close to the body (brachytherapy).

Radiation therapy is painless, and similar to having an X-ray or CT scan and any potential side-effects are always discussed with the prescribing Radiation Oncologist prior to treatment.

It can be used to cure cancer alone or in conjunction with other treatments, and it can also be used to ease pain during palliative care. It provides relief from pain and other symptoms.

Unfortunately, radiation therapy is underused in Australia. This is especially true for regional cancer patients, due not only to the long distances required for travel, but also due to a basic lack of understanding and information about the benefits of this treatment modality among regional populations.

THE PROBLEM

In Australia radiation therapy is underused in the fight against cancer.

A key barrier to radiation therapy is not cost or treatment effectiveness.

It’s lack of access.

Distance from a treatment centre is one of the biggest contributors to this problem.

Only 1 in 3 Australian cancer patients today receive radiation therapy

That number should be 1 in 2, in line with Europe and North America

Each of these 13 population centres is more than an hour away from the nearest radiation therapy centre. Many are further away.

Studies show that people with cancer in regional areas are up to 35% more likely to die within 5 years of diagnosis than patients in the city. For many regional Australians, the distance is too far for regular trips. Many are not even told radiation therapy is an option for them. Those who receive radiation therapy have to face long drives and many nights away from home.

An independent New South Wales medical study found that the underutilisation of radiation therapy for breast cancer patients led to the deaths of 85 patients over a three-year period.

R Merie, J Shafiq, G Gabriel, M Barton, G Delaney, Comparing Evidence-based recommendations for radiotherapy use against routine practice in breast cancer

What a lack of radiation therapy means for patients:

Lower survival rates

Avoidable surgeries

Long distance travel

Weeks away from home

THE SOLUTION

In 2019, the Federal Government announced $63 million to build radiation therapy treatment centres in 13 locations across regional Australia. 

This is a significant win for regional communities, cancer patients and medical professionals. In the future, cancer patients for whom radiation therapy was out of reach will have local access to a safe and highly effective cancer treatment.

While planning and development of the centres is underway, it is important that our doctors, health professionals and patient advocates work together to raise awareness of radiation therapy’s benefits and make sure our referral pathways reflect best clinical practice.

RTAG will keep the community up to date as works progress. Check out the NEWS and RESEARCH section for more information, and subscribe to the RTAG E-Newsletter below for bi-monthly updates on the centres and other radiation therapy research and developments. 

Help us spread the word about radiation therapy and ensure more Australians receive treatment.

 

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Authorised by A/Prof. Peter O’Brien, Radiation Therapy Advisory Group,
c/o Level 12, 54 Miller Street, North Sydney, NSW.