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Call for more investment to fix radiotherapy’s ‘PR problem’

Aine Fox, PA
·2-min read

More investment is needed in radiotherapy to tackle the backlog in cancer care built up during the pandemic, an expert said, as he called for the treatment’s “PR problem” to be addressed.

A minority of people see radiotherapy as a cutting-edge treatment compared with targeted drugs or proton beam therapy, a survey by
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found.

Just 12% of people questioned thought radiotherapy should be an area prioritised for funding.

But ICR experts argue it is the “unsung hero of cancer treatments” and needs more investment.

Professor Kevin Harrington, head of radiotherapy and imaging at the ICR in London, said the treatment has “an absolutely crucial role to play during the pandemic”.

He said: “Some radiotherapy regimens can now be given effectively over a much shorter period of time, limiting cancer patients’ exposure to the risk of contracting Covid-19 and helping relieve pressures on the NHS.

“Increased access to radiotherapy can be key in tackling the huge backlog of cancer care that has built up over the last year.”

He added: “Radiotherapy is the unsung hero of cancer treatments but so often it isn’t seen as a funding priority.

“We have to address radiotherapy’s PR problem, persuade patients that this treatment is cutting edge and highly sophisticated, and put in place systems to support nationwide clinical trials and the rollout of new technologies.”

The ICR questioned 2,216 people from the general population and found that just 8% considered radiotherapy to be cutting edge.

For targeted drugs this rose to 50%, for immunotherapy 43%, and for proton beam therapy 58%.

The ICR said radiotherapy is one of the most successful and cost-effective treatments for cancer and plays a part in the treatment of about 40% of all cancer patients who are cured of their disease.

But they added that new techniques are often restricted to major specialist centres, meaning patients either miss out or must travel long distances to get treatment or be part of clinical trials.

The survey also involved 505 cancer patients and found that almost a quarter had to travel more than 20 miles for radiotherapy, including one fifth of those living in urban areas and 41% in rural areas.

Professor Paul Workman, ICR chief executive, said: “Radiotherapy is a life-saving treatment for so many people, with the potential to play a major role in clearing the backlog of cancer care during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the myths and misconceptions that surround it are surprisingly difficult to shift.

“We need to ensure that radiotherapy has support from both the public and the Government, so that patients do not miss out on advanced treatment, and can gain improved access to the clinical trials which are so vital for driving forward advances.”