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Half of people unaware of advanced life-saving radiotherapy

Half of people in Great Britain did not know about any of the advanced types of life-saving radiotherapy treatments now available, which were listed in a Cancer Research UK poll.

A YouGov survey of over 2,000 UK adults carried out by Cancer Research UK alongside other members of the Radiotherapy Awareness Programme (RAP) showed that although 83 per cent had heard of radiotherapy as a cancer treatment, they did not necessarily know about the newest and best types.

The most advanced forms of radiotherapy such as intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) are transforming the lives of cancer patients by targeting a tumour more precisely. These new techniques also have fewer side effects.

But only four per cent of respondents had heard of IMRT. And only three per cent had heard of SABR. Proton beam therapy, despite receiving broad media coverage in the past year, has only been heard of by 30 per cent of those surveyed.

Knowledge about radiotherapy was much worse than about types of chemotherapy and surgical techniques. And respondents who gave an opinion overwhelmingly prioritised chemotherapy and other drug treatments (57 per cent) over radiotherapy (nine per cent) as highest for NHS funding into cancer treatments. This is despite experts suggesting that four in ten cancer patients who are cured have radiotherapy as part of their treatment.

Diana Tait, chair of the Radiotherapy Awareness Programme, said: “We were shocked that only nine per cent of people think radiotherapy should be the highest priority for NHS funding into cancer treatments.

“Patients don’t always get the most advanced form of radiotherapy that could give them the best chance. This isn’t acceptable.

“We want to raise awareness of how advanced radiotherapy is a better, kinder treatment, so that all patients who need it can get it on the NHS.”

The percentage of patients who do have radiotherapy and who get the advanced IMRT form varies widely across the country – from around 20 per cent to more than 70 per cent depending on the hospital. Around half of all patients receiving radiotherapy would benefit from IMRT.

The Independent Cancer Taskforce has called for a £275m National Radiotherapy Capital Fund to help modernise the radiotherapy service. The NHS urgently needs to replace 126 radiotherapy machines over the next three years so that advanced radiotherapy techniques can be delivered.

Emlyn Samuel, Cancer Research UK’s senior policy manager, said: “We’ve made incredible advances in technology over the last decade. Advanced radiotherapy treatments are more effective, more precise and have far fewer side effects. So it’s crucial all patients who need advanced radiotherapy can get it.

“The new cancer strategy for England calls for substantial investment to modernise the radiotherapy service. To help bring our survival rates in line with the best in the world, we must keep the pressure on the NHS and the Government, so that this becomes a reality.”

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