Radiotherapy is an essential component of comprehensive cancer care. More than half of all patients with cancer will require radiation as all or part of their treatment, often in combination with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation treats cancer by destroying the genetic material in rapidly growing cancer cells. The most common type of radiation used is x-rays, also known as photons. Radiation can be produced in a variety of ways and is delivered to patients using a radiotherapy machine. It is used to used to treat cancer, prevent recurrence, and help manage pain and other symptoms.
The Unmet Need
Prevention and the quest for a cure are essential aspects of any cancer strategy. Yet, neither will eliminate the growing number of unpreventable cancers nor will they address the needs of all patients currently requiring treatment. Access to comprehensive cancer care, which includes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy, is needed. While there are challenges to ensuring universal access to any of these therapies, access to radiotherapy has lagged furthest behind.
Radiotherapy is one of the pillars of cancer treatment. It is needed in over half of newly diagnosed cases with 40% of cancer cures obtained using radiotherapy alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy. The most common cancers worldwide—lung, breast, and colon—can all benefit from radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is also essential to relieve pain caused by cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
The majority of people who need radiotherapy do not have access to this critical component of cancer treatment. Currently, more than half of people living with cancer reside in low and middle-income countries, but only 30% of radiation machines are located in these countries, with a shocking 3% in the lowest income nations. Over 350 million people lack access to any radiotherapy services and about 200 million reside in one of the 29 African countries that do not have a single radiation machine.
The Horizon: Radiotherapy for All
How do we expand access to radiation therapy to everyone in need? In high-income countries, costly, highly technical radiotherapy treatments are the norm. Providing equitable access to radiotherapy in low and middle-income countries will mean adapting essential technologies and leaving behind those that add cost without benefit. Ultimately, investment in cancer care will prove to be of high value. According to a report by the American Cancer Society and LIVESTRONG, 83 million years of healthy life or $895 billion in disability-adjusted life years were lost due to cancer, which is higher than any other cause worldwide, including heart disease. Radiotherapy will be essential in gaining back these healthy years.
To read more about the basics of radiotherapy and the need for access, please visit the following websites: