Benefits and Effectiveness
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a highly effective cancer treatment with wide-ranging uses. Radiation therapy leads to cancer cure in many patients (either alone or with other treatments) and/or relieves symptoms caused by more advanced cancers. There are proven roles for nearly all cancer types.
Radiation therapy is a highly targeted treatment, aimed accurately and directly at the cancer wherever it might be in the body. This allows the cancer cells to be killed or reduced in number whilst protecting the majority of other organs and tissues in the body.
Radiation therapy contributes to 40% of all cancer cures world-wide as well as relieving symptoms, such as pain, and improving the quality of life for many others. Despite this great benefit, the total cost of radiation therapy to the Commonwealth government is less than 9 cents in every dollar spent on all cancer diagnosis and treatment. Each year of life saved in Australia by radiation therapy costs us less than one saved using other cancer treatments. In other words, radiation therapy is a very cost-effective cancer treatment.
One of the reasons that radiation therapy is so cost-effective is that it is usually given as out-patient treatment- people can come in for short treatments and often continue their normal activities. Although radiation therapy centres are expensive to set up, a typical treatment machine (linear accelerator) can keep treating many patients each day for up to 10 years.
For many common cancers, such as breast cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer, radiation therapy is highly effective in reducing the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery or helping the surgery be more successful. It can also cure the cancer if it has recurred locally after prostate cancer surgery. In some cancers (prostate, head and neck, bladder, lung, cervix and skin cancers), radiation therapy, with or without drug therapy, can be used as the main curative treatment and in this way avoids the risks of surgery and the removal of organs.
For some cancers that are too advanced to be cured, radiation therapy is very effective for pain and other problems caused by cancer, such as bleeding from the lung or bladder. For example, pain in the bones from the spread of cancer can be improved significantly or be completely removed in around 75% of patients.
New technological advances in radiation therapy have made life better for cancer patients in recent years by making treatments even quicker, more accurate and effective. Ongoing investment in new technology is vital, so Australians and New Zealanders (as in all countries) can keep benefiting from high quality, world-class radiation therapy.