Around 5,800 more cancer patients a year will now benefit from new, state-of-the-art forms of radiotherapy thanks to the Radiotherapy Innovation Fund1, but a long-term commitment from the government is vital for further improvements.
In just six months, the Government’s £23 million fund – allocated by Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health with support from radiotherapy professional bodies – has vastly increased the number of patients having access to Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT), a more advanced form of the treatment.
In August 2012 fewer than 14 per cent of patients receiving radiotherapy were given IMRT2. But by April this year that figure had risen to over 22 per cent – although this still falls short of achieving the 24 per cent target set out in 2009 by the National Radiotherapy Implementation Group and by the Prime Minister when launching the Fund.
Cancer Research UK has called for a long term commitment from the government to fulfil the Prime Minister’s ambition that all cancer patients will have access to the most effective radiotherapy for their cancer.
And experts now believe that the goal should be for 50 per cent of patients needing advanced radiotherapy to be given IMRT.
IMRT uses complex physics to shape the radiotherapy beam so it closely matches the outline and position of the tumour. This means that the tumour gets the highest dose of radiotherapy while the surrounding area of tissue receives a much lower one.
The complexity of planning IMRT means that it takes longer to organise and needs updated equipment and extra training for staff to carry out. The Fund has meant hospitals can upgrade their equipment and given them the ability to carry out the detailed planning that’s needed for IMRT.
Dr Adrian Crellin, a consultant clinical oncologist and co-chair of the National Radiotherapy Implementation Group when the Fund was established, said: “The Radiotherapy Innovation Fund has given a huge boost to the radiotherapy community and has meant that patients can benefit from more advanced treatments. Before the Fund was available many patients were missing out on a radiotherapy treatment that could increase their chances of survival and reduce side effects.
“More patients are now seeing the benefits of IMRT and it’s vital that radiotherapy services in the UK aren’t allowed to stagnate again but continue to improve.”
Research suggests that radiotherapy is second only to surgery in beating cancer, around four in 10 patients whose cancer is cured receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment.
Cancers benefitting from advanced radiotherapy that this Fund has helped facilitate include prostate, gynaecological, lung and head and neck tumours.
The £23 million Radiotherapy Innovation Fund is a collaboration supported by the Department of Health, Cancer Research UK, the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, the National Cancer Action Team, Royal College of Radiologists and the Society and College of Radiographers.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of Policy and Information, said: “The Radiotherapy Innovation Fund has shown what a huge difference this important investment in radiotherapy can have for cancer patients. In just six months we’ve increased the number of patients who can be given IMRT by almost two-thirds and have taken the first steps to changing radiotherapy services in the UK for the better.
“But we’re still a long way from fulfilling the Prime Minister’s ambition that all cancer patients should have access to the most effective radiotherapy for their cancer. As newer and better radiotherapy treatments become available, the NHS must be in a position to offer them to cancer patients.”
For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
1. Due to the increase in IMRT delivery by April, 5,797 more radiotherapy patients in England will now be treated with IMRT per year. The Radiotherapy Innovation Fund evaluation report includes details of methodology used to calculate these figures and is available on request.
2. Data for four centres was only available for November 2012 (prior to the implementation of the Fund) and has been assumed to be representative of IMRT delivery at those centres at this point in time.