Many Australian patients with cancer are missing out on the optimal use of radiation therapy in their treatment according to new data presented at the 68th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) in Perth today.
While previously published research shows the optimal use of radiation therapy would see almost half of cancer patients treated with radiation therapy within one year after diagnosis, there is evidence that only around one in three patients actually receive radiation therapy as part of treatment.
Lead researcher and radiation oncologist Dr Mei Ling Yap and colleagues derived the estimates by investigating the use of radiation therapy in the treatment of 9817 Australian patients who had been diagnosed with cancer.
“These figures provide cause for concern because the actual utilisation rates were well below the optimal use of radiation therapy in treating cancer,” Dr Mei Ling Yap
“These figures provide cause for concern because the actual utilisation rates were well below the optimal use of radiation therapy in treating cancer. Given the significant benefits that come from radiation therapy treatment, we will be conducting more research to determine why it is being utilised at levels that are well below optimal,” said Dr Yap. Lack of knowledge and education around radiation therapy in the community and health professionals are reasons already identified but there are likely others.
Data presented at other sessions in the conference estimated that underuse of radiation therapy could result in 246 deaths a year in NSW alone. Each premature death due to underutilisation leads to over 11 potential years of life lost (PYLL) on average. This means underutilisation of radiation therapy is costing 2,719 potential years of life lost each year in NSW alone.
“This study has helped quantify the substantial public health benefit that would be delivered by better access to and uptake of radiation therapy as part of cancer management. The burden of premature cancer deaths on patients, families and the broader health system is an important consideration in triggering action that leads to more appropriate use of radiation therapy,” said co-author Professor Michael Barton.
Elsewhere at the conference, researchers presented results from a trial of more regular use of breast magnetic resonance imaging (BMRI) for women at high risk of breast cancer. Some cancers grow very rapidly in this group. The researchers proposed a program of more frequent MRI sequences (that are cheaper and quicker to perform) as a tactic for reducing the impact of breast cancer amongst Australian women most at risk.