Radiotherapy courses

Almost 67,800 courses

of radiotherapy were reported in 2017–18

This compares to a total of about 63,500 in 2016–17, 60,600 in 2015–16, 56,400 in 2014–15, and 47,700 in 2013–14. However, the data collection coverage was incomplete in 2013–14 and 2014–15 (see Radiotherapy activity and collection participation).

In 2017–18, public providers delivered around 7 in 10 courses (over 45,900). Private providers delivered the remaining 3 in 10 courses reported (21,850). Data for courses delivered in the private sector are not presented by state and territory to protect the privacy of individual service providers.

What is a course of radiotherapy in this report?

In this report, a course of radiotherapy is defined as follows:

  • A course of radiotherapy is a series of one or more external beam radiotherapy treatments prescribed by a radiation oncologist.
  • A course of radiotherapy should have an associated ready-for-care date and, when treatment starts, a radiotherapy start date.
  • A patient can receive more than one course of radiotherapy at the same time (courses that are simultaneous or overlap). These courses may have the same or different ready-for-care dates and the same or different radiotherapy start dates.
  • Only a radiation oncologist can prescribe a course of radiotherapy. A prescription is not equal to a course of radiotherapy. A prescription may be for one or more courses of radiotherapy. A prescription outlines the anatomical region/sites to be treated and is for a prescribed dose at a defined volume (fractionation) over a defined period.
  • One course of radiotherapy may cover multiple phases and multiple treatment plans.

Interactive figure 1 presents data for 2013–14 to 2017–18, by sex and by:

  • age group
  • top 10 principal diagnoses
  • intent of treatment, and
  • state/territory and sector

Key points for radiotherapy courses started in 2017–18

  • Just over half (52%) of all courses of radiotherapy were provided to males, and 48% to females.
  • Up until the age of 60, females make up the greater portion of radiotherapy courses, but as people move into their early 60s this pattern reverses.
  • 89% of courses were delivered to people aged 50 and over, and 1.4% were delivered to people aged 30 or under.
  • 60% of radiotherapy courses were intended to cure disease, 39% were palliative, and 0.3% were prophylactic (for example, to prevent disease).
  • 1.4% of courses were clinically assessed as emergency treatment (that is, radiation treatment should begin within 24 hours), with 99% of these cases being palliative.

Excluding the relatively high number of cases where Indigenous status was not stated (35%), the proportion of radiotherapy courses provided to Indigenous Australians in 2017–18 was 1.4%; Indigenous Australians comprised 3.1% of the Australian population in 2015 (ABS 2015).

Data visualisation Iinteractive1: Number of radiotherapy courses, 2013-14 to 2017-18.

Visualisation not available for printing

Intention of treatment

Radiotherapy can be provided to patients with the aim of preventing or curing disease, or as palliative care. The intention of treatment is the reason treatment is provided to a patient, 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
  • prophylactic—to prevent the occurrence of disease at a site that exhibits no sign of active disease but is considered to be at risk.

(METeOR identifier: 583857)