Thousands of cancer patients lose life-saving radiation therapy

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Many cancer patients in New Zealand and Australia are losing radiation therapy that could help in their treatment.

Radiation treatment room

A radiation room.
Photo: Pennsylvania State University

The data presented at a radiology conference held today in Auckland show that less than a third of New Zealand patients will actually receive radiation therapy, although half will benefit from it.

In Australia, a study found similar numbers, with 25 percent of cancer patients in the state of New South Wales receiving the therapy, compared to the optimal rate of 45 percent.

Many patients offered that the treatment was not doing so, and their distance from radiology services was a factor in the likelihood that they had had, Carol Johnson of the Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists said,

"We know that the intervention rate in some of the regions could be only 28 percent, such as in Northland, Te Rawhiti, West Coast. These all have low intervention rates compared to the major centers where intervention rates have generally increased by about 40 percent.

"A big reason are the travel problems – it's very inconvenient."

Dr. Johnson said that some patients also remained reluctant to undergo radiation treatment due to the side effects they fear being affected.

But he pointed out that technology has come a long way, and is much less invasive than before.

At present, people could potentially lose the life-saving treatment.

"We have calculated that up to about 2000 patients are losing radiotherapy in a year. Some of these are life-saving, others only affect the quality of life.

"But this is a large number of New Zealanders who do not receive really effective treatment."

Dr. Roya Merie, a researcher and radiation oncologist, said that these figures, with concern, showed that the use of radiotherapy was well below the optimal figure in the effective treatment of cancer.

"This deficit has significant negative effects on patient outcomes and it is important that strategies are developed to overcome these deficiencies to improve the use of radiotherapy and ensure that patients receive the most appropriate treatment for them."

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