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Let's beat cancer sooner

Radiotherapy is one of the cornerstones of cancer treatment. It may seem surprising to read, but it cures more patients than cancer drugs do.

But a new survey this week shows that radiotherapy isn’t getting the credit it deserves. We believe this lack of public awareness is having a serious impact on the UK’s ability to provide the best cancer care.

So in a bid to change radiotherapy’s status as the unsung hero in the fight against cancer, we’re launching the Year of Radiotherapy, together with other members of the National Radiotherapy Awareness Initiative.

It’s been 100 years since Marie Curie (“the Godmother of radiotherapy”) received her second Nobel Prize, making it a good time to shine the spotlight on this truly life-saving treatment.

To kick-start the Year of Radiotherapy, Cancer Research UK’s Policy and Public Affairs Team organised a briefing for MPs in Parliament. Their mission was to give radiotherapy a higher profile, building stronger political support for providing world-class radiotherapy services in the UK.

Cutting-edge technology

As the 31 attending MPs discovered, radiotherapy is far from being outdated or old-fashioned. Four in ten people who beat cancer have received radiotherapy, and over 120,000 cancer patients in the UK benefit from the treatment every year.

Professor Michelle Saunders, former director of the Cancer Research UK Tumour Biology and Radiation Therapy Group,  explained how cutting-edge new techniques are helping to target the cancer-fighting powers of radiotherapy. This ensures that cancer cells are hit harder, making the treatment even more effective and helping to minimise side effects.

Cancer Research UK scientists are at the forefront of efforts to develop targeted radiotherapy. IMRT (intensity-modulated radiotherapy) is one of these new techniques – it allows doctors to boost the amount of radiation to the tumour, while limiting damage to nearby tissue.

Improving access

Improving cancer treatment is high on MPs’ agendas at the moment, thanks to the recently published national cancer strategy for England. And Russell Hart, radiotherapy services manager at Nottingham University Hospitals, was keen to emphasise that more government support is needed to make sure all cancer patients have access to the best radiotherapy.

It’s not only about investing in the machines needed for new treatments. In fact, many of the UK’s radiotherapy units have been upgraded in recent years – but we now urgently need to ensure enough staff are properly trained, so that the benefits of this technology can be brought to as many patients as possible

Helping patients

As always, our focus is on helping patients and saving lives. And after hearing about the science and the economics of radiotherapy, the assembled MPs heard what it really means to a cancer survivor.

Claire Daniels was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was 19. She was treated at The Christie in Manchester, where she received a range of different treatments. The last of these was radiotherapy – given to kill off any cancer cells remaining after her other treatments.

Claire, who now works at Cancer Research UK, explained that at the time radiotherapy seemed like a routine treatment to her. But it was a key part of her journey towards being fit and healthy again. She urged MPs to make sure radiotherapy is given the attention it deserves, so that more people like her can benefit from it.

Radiotherapy also plays a more subtle role in improving patients’ quality of life. Sarah Heyler from the Royal Marsden’s radiotherapy department explained how the women she treats for breast cancer can be spared mastectomy thanks to radiotherapy. Surgery to remove the tumour, combined with radiotherapy, is just as effective as a full mastectomy in preventing the cancer from coming back. With increasing numbers of people living beyond cancer, choices like this are becoming more important than ever.

Spreading the word

Radiotherapy is stepping into the limelight. This crucial treatment needs investment and support to help the UK succeed in saving more lives and beating cancer.

Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work laid the foundations for modern radiotherapy, and now we’re reinvigorating research into this treatment. Our scientists are carrying out groundbreaking work at our radiobiology institute in Oxford, and at other sites around the UK.

But without investment from the government, this research won’t bring all the benefits it could do. It’s time for MPs and our supporters to spread the word, and help keep the UK at the forefront of radiotherapy research and treatment.

That’s why were calling on the Government in England to introduce an action plan for radiotherapy. You can add your name to our petition and become a voice for radiotherapy.

Help us increase awareness of radiotherapy – share this blog post on Twitter or Facebook

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Comments

Ronald Hillman September 1, 2011

When diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007 i had thee choices, i chose raidiotherapy, its now September 2011and enjoying life again.I am very lucky i live in stoke on trent,we have abrand new cancer centre with the latest tec, now treating people in our city and surrounding areas,do i need to say any more.

mrs ramzi August 26, 2011

there is an other treatment that Scotland cancer patents are not
all geting told about and that a treatment called
[ thomo therapy ] its more or like [ cyber knife ] but [ cyber knife ] to my self is the best
MRS Ramzi

Elizabeth Craig August 26, 2011

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 and after chemotherapy had radiotherapy on my breast and collar bone. I am sure my treatment was not the cyber knife that is being discussed!! However, my experience was very positive. The radiographers answered my endless questions and gave me practical advice. I am still in remission, healthy and grateful that I was able to receive radiotherapy. I am lucky that I had no side effects and am so sorry to read of those who did. To me this emphasises the need to provide funding for the most up to date machines that are able to target tumours more accurately and so minimise damage to surrounding tisues. It horrifies me that so many people are unable to receive treatment due to lack of staff or machines.

Edith Beal April 1, 2011

I had radiotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1966.A recurrence in 1969 necessitated more treatment, this time to my right neck and mediastinum.I also had a repeat dose to left neck and mediastinum. There was no chemo therapy in the 1960s.
I am here to tell the tale,but have had lung cancer in the left lower lobe of bronchus in2009,breast cancer in my left breast in 1992,thyroid deficiency and heart problems.
No doubt radiotherapy saved my life,but the long term effects of the double dose to the left side of my chest have cast a shadow in my life.
Fortunately radiotherapy has advanced since then and had I not received it I would not have been able to raise my three children

mrs ramzi March 29, 2011

scotland is buing left in the dark when it comes to the best cancer treatment out there in the uk
the best cancer treatment in 2011 is called
[cyber knife ]why do cancer patents have no choice
in the treatment they need or would like to have
more choice for cancer patents
if the uk NHS wont pay funding for this treatment they should be named and shamed
shame on the NHS that will not fund this treatment
mrs ramzi

mrs ramzi March 13, 2011

cyberknife to treat most cancers
cyberknife is the name to be looking ate when looking for cancer treatment and it should be paid for buy the NHS

mrs ramzi March 13, 2011

conventional Radotherpy can damage as well as cure or stop cancer spreding
but the new cyberknife is the way forword in treating cancer so take a look ate the harly steet london web page cyberknife treats most cancers and works pritty fast or ask your consultent to send you and your scans to harly street get the doctoers there to see if cyberknife is for your cancer. cyberknife is the name to look ate when looking for treatment to cancer

Annabel Kanabus January 30, 2011

Radiotherapy can have terrible side effects. I recently had radiotherapy for head and neck cancer (my son having died of the same disease). I ended up in hospital being fed through a tube for three weeks. Even now three months later I am always in considerable pain, and I am very restricted in what I can eat. I may have been cured of cancer but my quality of life has been destroyed. I really regret having the radiotherapy and I doubt that I will choose to live the number of years that I could have cancer free.

Flo January 28, 2011

In my experience as a carer, the biggest problem with radiotherapy was the lack of support provided during the treatment. At our local hospital, there were so many treatment rooms operating each day, that there were very few staff available to deal with queries/problems, and we were not told in advance about open clinics to deal with these. As a result, during his radiotherapy, my father had to be admitted to A&E with an infection that had been dismissed by the duty radiotherapy doc as side effect tiredness. For us, the biggest problem was the communication/support during the process itself.