By Associate Professor Sandra Turner, Westmead Hospital.
In November 2013, Radiation Oncologists from Australia and New Zealand united to improve recognition of radiation therapy as an important treatment for both the cure and palliation for patients with cancer.
Targeting Cancer is an education campaign that seeks to improve awareness of radiation therapy as an effective and safe cancer treatment.
While research suggests that the optimal utilisation rate for radiation therapy is around 1 in 2 patients, only one in three patients will access this treatment. This means that thousands of patients in Australia and New Zealand alone are missing out on potentially beneficial treatment.
This is largely due to the low profile of radiation therapy – patients aren’t aware that radiation therapy may be a treatment option for them, and even many doctors aren’t aware of its benefits.
Many people do not know that 40% of cancer cures involve radiation therapy and that around 75% of bone pain form cancer can be relieved by radiation therapy. The Radiation Oncology: Targeting Cancer campaign was launched to address this long-standing problem.
The campaign aims to dispel myths and provide information for both patients and doctors on radiation therapy and where it can be effectively used.
The Targeting Cancer campaign is supported by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, the Australian Institute of Radiographers and the Australasian College of Physical Scientists & Engineers in Medicine.
What have we done so far?
The Targeting Cancer website:
A key part of the campaign is the creation of a Targeting Cancer website www.targetingcancer.com.au with up-to-date patient, carer and health practitioner resources to provide helpful information about radiation therapy. The website was designed to be accessible and interesting and contains many personal patient stories and videos.
The website also provides information about the radiation oncology team members, frequently asked questions and other advocacy organisations, and can help you identify your nearest treatment centre. There are also videos of the treatment process and patient pathway through a course of treatment
It is a resource for both patients and doctors to assist in the understanding of this important treatment.
Oncology Education Evenings:
One important stream of the campaign has been holding information evenings for General Practitioners within the radiation oncology centres, focusing on common cancer management issues, including the role of radiation therapy in everyday general practice. These include a tour of the radiation oncology department so that GPs can see what their patients may experience.
These events enables GPs to have more input into ensuring patients get all treatment options and also serves to build links between the GPs and the cancer centre.
The first Education Evening was held at the Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre at Westmead Hospital in late 2014.
Our Community Service Announcement:
A key achievement over the past 12 months has been the development of a Community Service Announcement – an advertisement/short film for TV and digital media, showcasing radiation therapy as a safe, effective and sophisticated treatment for patients with cancer.
Our film, ‘Targets’, highlights the stories of five different real patients who each used radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment. We have had an amazing response with >1000 views on YouTube over the first two days.
The film is available online and has also been accepted to air on SBS and the Seven Network.
The filmakers also created an additional documentary short called ‘Targeting Cancer – Abdallah’s Story’, which follows Abdallah Tabbaa’s journey, one the patients filmed for ‘Targets’:
What have we learnt?
‘Campaigning’ is not a traditional function of professional medical organisations, or for doctors and other staff in our group. Getting our heads around the marketing terminology such as branding, audience reach, messaging, and the like, has been an interesting introduction into a foreign world! Diving into the social media and digital spheres has been eye-opening and fascinating.
The importance of having a team bringing different skills, contacts and ideas to the table could not be more strongly emphasised. The energy, interest and efforts of many who have engaged with Targeting Cancer both internally and externally never ceases to inspire us.
What are our plans for the next year?
Over the next 12 months we are planning to take Targeting Cancer even further and wider than we have so far. This campaign is not going to fix the problem quickly so we are in for the long haul! We are using social and traditional media opportunities where we can to spread our message. Building partnerships with cancer advocacy groups will continue as an important activity.
We have a couple of specific projects that we will be working on over the next 12 months:
- Continuing our GP program remains a key priority. GPs play a crucial role at every stage in the management of a patient diagnosed with cancer. The trusting relationship that exists between a patient and their GP optimises the delivery of health care – from the time of initial diagnosis to treatment planning, surveillance and transition to survivorship or palliative care. Radiation oncology departments across Australia and New Zealand have been volunteering to host an evening for local doctors and we hope to run at least 10 more over the next 12 months.
- Government engagement must become a priority so that we can highlight the importance of a properly funded radiation oncology sector into the future.
- Our focus will expand to New Zealand, which has a similar problem with under-utilisation of radiation therapy. The Targeting Cancer campaign aims to provide information for patients and health practitioners in both countries. We have developed a NZ based website (www.targetingcancer.co.nz) and will be working towards more events and activities in that country.