Radiotherapy courses

74,200 courses of radiotherapy were delivered in 2018–19

This has grown faster each year from 60,600 courses in the first year of complete data collection in 2015–16 (see Radiotherapy activity and collection participation).

In 2018–19, public providers delivered around 64% of courses (47,300). Private providers delivered the remaining 36% of courses reported (26,900). 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 necessarily 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, below, presents data for 2013–14 to 2018–19, by sex and by:

  • age group
  • top 10 principal diagnoses
  • intent of treatment
  • state/territory and sector
  • remoteness of residence, and
  • socioeconomic area of the person.

Key points for radiotherapy courses started in 2018–19

  • Just over half (52%) of all courses of radiotherapy were provided to males, and 48% to females.
  • Up until about 60 years of age, 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.
  • 59% of radiotherapy courses were intended to cure disease, 40% were palliative, and 0.3% were prophylactic.
  • 1.5% of courses were clinically assessed as emergency treatment (that is, radiation treatment should begin within 24 hours), with 98% of these cases being palliative.


Data visualisation Interactive1: Number of radiotherapy courses, 2013-14 to 2018-19. Interactive figure 1 presents activity data for 2013–14 to 2018–19, by sex and by age group, top 10 principal diagnoses, intent of treatment, state/territory and sector, remoteness of residence, and socioeconomic area of the person. Details can be found in the supplementary tables

Visualisation not available for printing

Indigenous status

Excluding the relatively high number of cases where Indigenous status was not stated (34%), the proportion of radiotherapy courses provided to Indigenous Australians in 2018–19 was 1.6%; Indigenous Australians comprised 3.3% of the Australian population in 2016. For more detail see Profile of Indigenous Australians.

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 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)