‘Undervalued’ radiotherapy needs greater investment

Published: 29 November 2018 Ezine

Radiotherapy is ‘undervalued’ and ‘needs greater investment’ according to a new report, Radiotherapy: seizing the opportunity in cancer care, commissioned by the Marie Curie Legacy Campaign, an initiative of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO) and the ESTRO Cancer Foundation (ECF).

A five‑point plan is recommended in the report to boost uptake of radiotherapy and calls on all stakeholders, including governments and policymakers, healthcare professionals, patients and professional societies, along with national and international research funds, to become ‘radiotherapy ambassadors’ to help raise awareness of the benefits of radiotherapy and secure its valuable position in comprehensive, optimal cancer care. 

“Radiotherapy appears to be left on the side lines of national health policy agendas,” says Lydia Makaroff, director of the European Cancer Patient Coalition.

“Greater investment, improved access and better understanding of radiotherapy - both at a national and international level - is vital. This will ensure that patients get the best possible and most effective care for their particular type of cancer, leading to better outcomes and more lives saved.”

The report’s authors cite shortages of high-quality equipment, variations in training, insufficient integration of radiotherapy into treatment plans, lack of investment in research, lack of general understanding of radiotherapy as a cancer treatment, and misconceptions regarding the safety of radiotherapy, among the important factors contributing to radiotherapy’s poor image and underuse.
The report’s five key recommendations are:

  • Make radiotherapy a central component of cancer care in policies, planning and budgets
  • Achieve recognition of all radiotherapy professions and harmonise education and training standards across Europe
  • Invest in research and use of data to continuously improve radiotherapy outcomes for patients and maximise the potential of innovation
  • Fully integrate radiotherapy into treatment planning and decision-making
  • Help improve general awareness and understanding of radiotherapy to ensure it can achieve its full potential for patient care

In 2018, approximately 4.2 million people received a cancer diagnosis in Europe. The incidence of cancer is increasing and the demand for radiotherapy is expected to see a 16% increase by 2025.

“Radiotherapy saves lives. Either used alone or in combination with other types of cancer treatment,” says report author Yolande Lievens, chair of the department of radiation oncology at Ghent University Hospital and past-president of ESTRO.

“Currently, radiotherapy is recommended as part of treatment for more than 50% of cancer patients, but across Europe at least a quarter of people who need radiotherapy do not receive it. This is wholly unacceptable and a missed opportunity for cancer patients.” 

 A full copy of the report can be accessed on the Mare Curie Legacy website.