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

RTAG is pleased to welcome recent announcements by the Federal Government and Opposition of $60 million to invest in radiation therapy centres in 13 regional centres across 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 announcements 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

We need our politicians to step up and ensure regional communities get the cancer services they need.

The Federal Government must make radiation therapy available to more Australians who need it.

This means providing:

A firm commitment to ensure equal access to radiation therapy for all Australians

Funding for more treatment centres in regional and rural communities

More information for cancer patients on the available treatment options

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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.