A strong radiation oncology sector is indispensable for an effective cancer control strategy. Radiotherapy contributes 40% of cancer cures and will remain a vital component of cancer care.
Radiotherapy can be used to treat almost all cancers, anywhere in the body. Radiation oncology has a major positive impact on local cancer control and is a highly effective therapy for the control of cancer symptoms such as pain. A key advantage of radiation oncology is that it is an effective and non-invasive anti-cancer treatment without any major associated mortality risk.
To prepare Australia for the increasing cancer incidence, expansion of radiation oncology services should be enacted in a planned and sustainable way. Over half of all new cancer patients need radiotherapy. Currently, access to radiation oncology services remains a problem for many Australian patients.
At least 18,000 cancer patients will not receive potentially beneficial radiotherapy treatment in 2012. This number will grow to 24,000 in 2022 if current issues are left unaddressed.
Those patients who miss out on clinically appropriate radiotherapy treatments can be adversely affected. The consequences can include compromised health outcomes, premature death, inadequate symptom control, reduced quality of life and increased suffering.
Radiation oncology is distinguished by several important characteristics: integrated multiprofessional practice; reliance on custom-built facilities and specialised equipment; and out-patient treatment regimens.
Past experience indicates that fiscal constraints can hamper effective policy approaches. In this context, the well-established cost effectiveness of radiation oncology is a strong incentive for policy action. Active engagement and collaboration between the professions, consumers and government is necessary for implementation of all initiatives and policies.
Australia must act now to maintain existing gains in the provision of quality radiation oncology services and to meet current and future demand among cancer patients.
Equity of access to high quality care for all Australian cancer patients underpins ‘Planning for the Best: the Tripartite National Strategic Plan for Radiation Oncology (Australia) 2012-2022’. The Plan includes a series of recommendations in the areas of quality, resources, access and research to deliver timely, affordable and world-class radiation oncology services to Australians.
Ongoing investment in radiation oncology must remain a national priority.