Thousands of cancer patients are not being given most successful treatments
BBC reports radiotherapists claim too few people are getting radiotherapy because GPs and the public see drugs and surgery as better options.
They warn this could explain why the UK has lower cancer survival rates
Estimates say 52% of all cancer patients in the UK should receive radiotherapy, but actual figures are:
- England and Wales 38% of patients get radiotherapy
- Northern Ireland 35%
- Scotland 43%
Experts say that suggests approximately 30,000 cancer patients are not getting what they would consider the best treatment.
What is radiotherapy?
It is a treatment for cancer using radiation, usually X-rays, to damage the DNA in cells. Healthy cells can repair the damage. Rapidly dividing cancerous cells cannot, so they die.
Dr Jane Barnett, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, says “radiotherapy is still a magic bullet.” Especially now with the use of computer imagery.
Why is it under-used?
Money. Professionals admit anti-cancer drugs, backed by the pharmaceutical industry, were better promoted than radiotherapy.
Dr Barnett said GPs were also poorly informed about the subject: “Radiotherapy plays a very small part in a doctor’s training, unless you’re going to be a clinical oncologist, compared with drugs and surgery which play a part in many fields.”
The National Radiotherapy Awareness Initiative is trying to improve radiotherapy’s reputation, saying radiotherapy cures more people than chemotherapy, is 13 times more cost effective and is targeted to within millimetres.
Professor Tim Maughan, oncologist at the Velindre Hospital in Cardiff, criticised the government’s decision to set up a cancer drugs fund worth £200m a year.
He said: “It’s the wrong decision. I don’t understand how we can chose to spend money on drugs which have not been deemed cost effect by NICE (the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence).
Professor Mike Richards, national clinical director for cancer, says “The recently published national cancer strategy clearly recognises the role of radiotherapy and commits additional funding.” So why so coy?
What’s to come?
New technologies, such as Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT), are more effective at targeting the radiation at the tumour, minimising damage to nearby tissues and reducing side effects.
But UK lags behind Europe:
approx. 20% of European patients have access to IMRT
approx 7% have access in UK
One reason could be NHS’s lack of proper administration.
A radiotherapy unit uses very expensive – but cost-effective – machinery.
- In private sector these units run for a minimum 12 hours per day.
- Most NHS units are still governed by old-fashioned administration, and run 8 hours a day.
One of the newest forms of treatment, proton beam therapy, fires particles at a tumour rather than using radiation waves.
If you think this might benefit you, DEMAND to be sent to Europe for treatment; patients are being funded by NHS to go abroad – but NHS is keeping quiet. Natch.
Make sure if radiotherapy could help, that you demand to be given a course.
And call La La Lansley’s bluff – he keeps on spouting mantra that we lag behind Europe, so use his words to get best treatment for yourself – abroad if need be.