By Tami Freeman, PhD, Physics World editor (medical and biophysics)

November 9, 2018 -- Radiotherapy is undervalued and needs greater investment, reports a new white paper commissioned by the Marie Curie Legacy Campaign, an initiative of the European Society for Radiotherapy & Oncology (ESTRO) and the ESTRO Cancer Foundation to raise awareness of the benefits of radiotherapy and optimize the provision of radiotherapy in Europe and beyond. The report was launched on 7 November to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Marie Curie.

"Radiotherapy saves lives -- either used alone or in combination with other types of cancer treatment," said report author Yolande Lievens, chair of radiation oncology at Ghent University Hospital and a 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."

The report recommends a five-point plan to boost radiotherapy uptake. Image courtesy of ESTRO Cancer Foundation.

The white paper, Radiotherapy: Seizing the Opportunity in Cancer Care, recommends the following five points to boost uptake of radiotherapy:

  • Make radiotherapy a central component of cancer care in policies, planning, and budgets.
  • Achieve recognition of all radiotherapy professions and harmonize education and training standards across Europe.
  • Invest in research and use of data to continuously improve radiotherapy outcomes for patients and maximize 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.

The report calls on all stakeholders -- 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.

The authors -- a panel of radiation oncology experts from across Europe -- 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. They note the demand for radiotherapy is expected to see a 16% increase by 2025.

"Radiotherapy appears to be left on the sidelines of national health policy agendas," said 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 patients get the best possible and most effective care for their particular type of cancer, leading to better outcomes and more lives saved."

© IOP Publishing Limited. Republished with permission from Physics World, a website that helps scientists working in academic and industrial research stay up to date with the latest breakthroughs in physics and interdisciplinary science.

 
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