By Rachael Babin.
The silent hero of cancer treatment, radiation therapy, was brought out of the shadows at the World Cancer Congress this week.
Radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment for cancer, involved in around 40% of cancer cures, yet it is largely unknown in the general community despite that fact the most common cancers worldwide—lung, breast, and colon—can all benefit from radiation therapy. It also helps relieve pain for patients whose cancer has metastasised.
Now a global alliance of radiation oncology advocacy organisations will work together to educate patients and governments about the importance of radiation therapy. This alliance includes GlobalRT, a new online community that aims to utilise digital technology and social media to better connect patients, providers and policy-makers that want to improve cancer care.
The GlobalRT group met with the Radiation Oncology: Targeting Cancer campaign, an important initiative by the Faculty of Radiation Oncology, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologist, in Melbourne this week to coordinate activities and raise the profile of radiation therapy.
An important aspect of this movement is advocating for global access to radiation therapy, which is woeful in some countries and needed to tackle the worldwide cancer problem.
Associate Professor Sandra Turner, who is Chair of the Targeting Cancer campaign and a Radiation Oncologist at Westmead Hospital, Sydney, said, “currently, more than half of people living with cancer reside in low and middle-income countries, but only 30% of radiation machines are located in these countries, with a shocking 3% in the lowest income nations”.
“Over 350 million people lack access to any radiation therapy services and about 200 million reside in one of the 29 African countries that do not have a single radiation machine.” This issue needs to be addressed as a global issue because “people diagnosed with cancer should be aware of their treatment options and have access to the best treatment, no matter where they live.”
And the problem isn’t confined to low-middle income nations, with low uptake of radiation therapy even in countries like Australian and New Zealand.
“Even in high income countries like Australia and New Zealand, while 1 in 2 patients could benefit from the treatment, less than 1 in 3 will actually receive it,” Associate Professor Turner said.