Between 2020 and 2030 an estimated 550,000 Australians are projected to die from cancer. So far this year, over 25,000 people have lost their lives to the disease, with that number projected to reach 63,000 in 2030¹. In addition, studies show that patients in regional Australia are up to 35% more likely to die within five years of a cancer diagnosis. We can and must change this narrative.
New technologies and therapies for cancer treatment are emerging at a rapid rate and – coupled with the right policy environment – can have a significant impact on these numbers. For example, we have seen tremendous advances in the field of radiation therapy, a form of cancer treatment that involves killing cancerous cells by exposing them to high-intensity waves, over the last decade and expect even more progress over the next. While radiation therapy contributes to enhancing survival rates in 40% of cancer patients, currently only 1 in 3 patients in Australia receive radiation therapy². That number should be 1 in 2 in line with clinical evidence and guidelines.³
National Oncology Alliance Vision 20-30
The National Oncology Alliance (NOA), an alliance of stakeholders comprised of patients, patient groups, clinicians, and industry, was formed by Rare Cancers Australia (RCA) to promote timely, affordable, and equitable access to the best care, emerging treatments and technologies to Australians who need them. The Vision 20-30 project, an initiative of NOA and RCA developed in partnership with The Minderoo Foundation, has begun a journey of stakeholder consultations and evidence analysis to build an Australian Cancer Future Framework.
Advances in Radiation Therapy Mean Less Time in Hospital for Cancer Patients
The Vision 20-30 underscores the remarkable advances in radiation therapy technology in recent years, leading to major improvements in the accuracy of radiation therapy delivery. The precision provided by combining radiation therapy with advanced imaging, tailoring the radiation dose for individual cancers, and managing motion during treatment translate into better patient outcomes. These developments have meant that higher doses can be safely given to the cancer and less dose given to surrounding tissues resulting in fewer side effects. Survival rates have increased, and quality of life improved for patients having radiation therapy.
Advances also mean that some patients require fewer treatments, which means less time spent in hospital. For instance, for prostate cancer patients having radiation therapy, the number of trips to hospital for treatment can be reduced from 40 down to 20, or even less. This is particularly important for patients living in rural and regional Australia and must be factored into policy frameworks that underpin radiation therapy in the future.
Improving Access and Awareness is Critical
The Vision 20-30 highlights the low level of awareness of radiation therapy in the general community, even amongst healthcare professionals, and notes the importance of ensuring that patients understand their treatment options and the potential value of radiation therapy in their care. Many people don’t know that radiation therapy is often an appropriate alternative to surgery, for instance for prostate cancer, skin, and head and neck cancers. It is less invasive than surgery, preserves important organs (e.g. bladder or voice box), and can result in improved quality of life.
Evidence shows that radiation therapy is under utilised in Australia and its use has the potential to result in better outcomes and lower treatment costs.
Improving education and access to radiation therapy in Australia is a clear need and can be realised through pillar six of the Australian Cancer Future Framework.
¹ Statistical extrapolation of AIHW cancer statistic and ABS data
² Gabriel G, Barton M, Delaney G. Does travel distance affect radiotherapy utilisation in NSW and the ACT? Presentation at 2014 Innovations in Cancer Treatment and Care Conference.
³ Barton M., Jacob S., Shafig J., Wong K., Thompson S., Hanna T., Delaney G. National & International Benchmarks set following study of delivery of Radiotherapy Services: ‘Review of Radiotherapy Optimal Utilisation Rates’. Collaboration for Cancer Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CCORE), Liverpool Hospital, Sydney, Australia, 2013: p6.