Increased investment in radiotherapy will improve cure rates for European cancer patients

10/26/04

The scenarios where radiotherapy can be used for curative (and palliative) treatment of cancer have steadily increased, and radiotherapy now forms a part of the treatment of more than 50% of all cancer patients. However, in many countries, treatment capacity is exceeded and access to treatment is a major problem. This was the conclusion of three leading European radiation oncologists who were jointly presenting their findings at the 23rd Meeting of the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology here today (Tuesday 26th October).

According to Prof. Michael Baumann (UK Carl Gustav Carus, Dresden, Germany), Prof. Ann Barrett (University of East Anglia School of Medicine, Norwich, UK), Dr. Ole Nielsen (Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark) and Dr. Søren Bentzen (Gray Cancer Institute, Northwood, UK) there is a wealth of experimental and clinical data which indicates that cure rates decrease with increasing waiting time for radiotherapy. "Increasing demand without increasing the resources to match, results in patients' welfare being jeopardised", explained Prof. Baumann. "Increased waiting times can result in tumours growing beyond a 'curative size' or in tumours metastasising. For tumours to grow beyond a curable size takes weeks or even months", emphasised Prof. Baumann. "But in some countries waiting times of this length are not uncommon and urgent action needs to be taken if all patients are to have equal access to optimal care".

In very few EU countries do the number of linear accelerators (machines used to deliver radiotherapy) match the number known to be required to adequately provide treatment. In those few countries with national guidelines to govern the numbers of linear accelerators per head of population, none have achieved the target set out in the guidelines.

Prof. Baumann cited the example of the U.K and the Netherlands where calls for increased investment in radiotherapy (provision of equipment and training of staff) had resulted in substantial improvements. "Recent figures show improved cure rates across a range of cancers in the UK which is, in part, due to improved availability and access to treatment". "Overall though, in many countries of the European Union a high proportion of patients requiring radiotherapy receive their treatment not within what oncologists would agree is an acceptable time," explained Prof. Baumann. "This under-use of radiotherapy reflects the lack of availability of linear accelerators and trained staff to operate them".

"On behalf of the 6,000 European radiation oncologists that ESTRO represents, we would urge European health ministries to move quickly to allocate sufficient resources to make sure that all patients eligible for radiotherapy are treated in a timely manner, according to accepted guidelines", said Prof. Baumann. "Radiotherapy is a cost-effective and proven treatment for cancer that can cure and reduce suffering in hundreds of thousands of patients in Europe each year. It is critical that funds are allocated to ensure that patients receive the best care possible and the best opportunity of surviving their disease".

Source: Eurekalert & others

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