Radiotherapy uses radiation directed at a localised area to kill or damage cancer cells. It is a well-established, effective and safe way to treat cancer and a small number of other conditions. Radiotherapy is an important type of cancer treatment, and delays in treatment can lead to poorer clinical outcomes. Radiotherapy can be provided to patients with the aim of preventing or curing disease, or as palliative care.
Radiotherapy is a highly specialised treatment that radiation therapists deliver, supervised by a radiation oncologist (in consultation with a multidisciplinary team including other medical and allied health practitioners), and requiring specialised equipment. There are several types of radiotherapy – the bulk of radiotherapy is megavoltage external beam radiotherapy delivered by linear accelerator machines.
Radiotherapy is a well-established, effective and safe way to treat cancer and a small number of other conditions. In cancer treatment, it may be used on its own or in conjunction with other treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy. Radiotherapy uses radiation directed at a localised area to kill or damage the cancer cells. About half of all patients with cancer could benefit from external beam radiotherapy (RANCZR 2015).
Radiotherapy is usually given as one outpatient treatment or a series of outpatient treatments over a defined period, though under some circumstances patients may be treated as admitted patients. The purpose of treatment influences the optimal timeframe for its implementation, and is categorised as:
- curative – when treatment is given with the intention of curing disease,
- palliative – primarily for the purpose of pain or other symptom control. Consequent benefits of the treatment are considered secondary contributions to quality of life, or
- prophylactic – to prevent the occurrence of disease at a site that exhibits no sign of active disease but is considered to be at risk.
Data for megavoltage external beam radiotherapy are submitted to the AIHW based on the Radiotherapy waiting times national minimum dataset, which represents an agreement by relevant governments to collect uniform data about the services that they fund and to supply it as part of a national collection. Private providers also submit data to this collection on a voluntary basis. The data include waiting time from when a person is ready for care till the treatment course begins, number of courses, patient demographics and some clinical information like principal diagnosis and urgency of treatment.
RANZCR 2015. What is radiation therapy? Sydney: RANZCR. Viewed 19 August 2020.
50% of all radiotherapy patients received treatment within 10 days and 90% received treatment within 27 days
For those who needed emergency radiotherapy (1.5% of courses), 96% began treatment on the same or next day