Use of radiotherapy cancer treatment in Australia grows

Note: The information in this media release is for a time period before the 2019–20 summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of radiotherapy courses delivered to Australian patients grew from 61,000 courses in 2015-16, to 74,000 courses in 2018-19  according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Radiotherapy in Australia 2018-19, finds that over 6 in 10 of these courses of radiotherapy were delivered by public providers, and nearly 4 in 10 by private healthcare providers.

‘Radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer and a small number of other conditions which directs radiation at a localised area to kill or damage cancer cells,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster.

‘It’s an important type of cancer treatment, and delays in treatment can lead to poorer clinical outcomes’.

 ‘In 2018-19, half of all radiotherapy patients started treatment within 10 days of being assessed as ready for care, and 90% within 27 days.

‘For those who needed emergency treatment (1.5% of courses), 96% began treatment within the recommended timeframe—on the same or the next day.’

The proportion of public patients who needed emergency radiotherapy and received it within 24 hours ranged from 92% in Western Australia to 98% in the ACT.

The median waiting time (the number of days within which 50% of patients waited) for radiotherapy in the public system ranged from 7 days in South Australia and the Northern Territory to 22 days in the ACT.

The report includes national-level figures for private radiotherapy providers. For patients in the private system who needed emergency treatment, 99% received it within 24 hours. The median waiting time for all radiotherapy by private providers was 8 days.

‘Radiotherapy waiting times were shortest for those patients living in the highest socioeconomic areas (50% of patients began treatment within 8 days), compared with those living in the lowest socio economic areas (50% within 12 days),’ Dr Webster said.

Just over half (52%) of all courses of radiotherapy were provided to males, and 48% to females.

Almost 9 in 10 (89%) of courses were delivered to people aged 50 and over and 1.4% were delivered to patients aged 30 or under.

About 6 in 10 (59%) of radiotherapy courses were intended to cure disease, 40% were palliative and 0.3% were prophylactic (designed to prevent the occurrence of diseases at a site which is considered to be at risk).

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