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Today NHS England announced that it will invest £130m over the next couple of years in new radiotherapy machines.

This is great news. Especially when research has shown that for some types of cancer, more advanced radiotherapy techniques – which the newer machines can provide – are what patients need.

It was around 4 years ago that we first raised the issue that England’s radiotherapy machines were becoming out of date and needed to be replaced. A point we’ve raised time and time again since.

So we were pleased when support for buying new machines featured in England’s cancer strategy, published last year.

And it’s fantastic that the NHS is now dedicating money to this unsung hero of cancer treatment.

So what are these new machines, and why is this money so vital?

Why is radiotherapy important?

For many patients radiotherapy cures, or helps to cure, their cancer. And for others it plays a crucial role in slowing the growth of tumours and improving the patient’s quality of life.

My treatment was actually a complete breeze – certainly after chemo. People need radiotherapy so they can spend more quality time with their friends and families

– Elizabeth, Ambassador and cancer survivor

It’s also an area where we fund cutting edge research, which has been at the heart of tremendous advances over the last decade.

Radiotherapy is now an incredibly sophisticated and effective treatment. But while this evidence has grown, we also know that many patients miss out on modern radiotherapy treatments.

And awareness of the benefits of radiotherapy is also low among the general public – something we think needs to change.

Radiotherapy can sometimes be overlooked, not getting the recognition, and importantly the investment, it deserves. So we’ve made a big effort over many years to raise its profile and push government for improvements so that more patients can benefit.

And this is something that patients care about too.

“People have some funny ideas about radiotherapy, and see it as something sinister or scary,” says Elizabeth, one of our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors.

“My treatment was actually a complete breeze – certainly after chemo. People need radiotherapy so they can spend more quality time with their friends and families, and we must all campaign to make sure people get it when they need it most.

“It’s clever stuff, and it works.”

What has been holding the radiotherapy service back?

The most common form of radiotherapy uses x-rays, produced by a machine called a linear accelerator, to target and destroy cancer cells. This is known as external beam radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy machines should be replaced every 10 years. But they’re expensive, costing up to £2m each for the latest versions. And while radiotherapy is very cost effective in the long term, over recent years hospitals have struggled to replace old machines due to the high cost up front.

This lack of investment in new machines is a major reason why some patients are not getting treatments that are best for them, as the NHS has not kept pace with advances that new technology brings.

For example, around half of patients receiving radiotherapy that has the potential to cure them should have a modern type called Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT). But right now, the proportion who do receive this treatment is under 40 per cent.

IMRT is the best form of radiotherapy for some types of cancer, such as head and neck cancer. That’s because it targets tumours more precisely, helping patients avoid side-effects such as dry mouth or trouble swallowing.

Whether a patient gets IMRT or not can vary depending on where they live in England – in some hospitals around 20 per cent get it, in others more than 70 per cent. This is obviously cause for serious concern and something we hope this investment will address.

Outdated machines also limit research. To make new discoveries, researchers and doctors need to be using the latest equipment.

And that’s another reason why today’s investment is so important.

Money well spent

Crucially, this money will help fund the much needed state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines that will replace outdated ones in cancer centres across England.

The latest figures we’ve seen indicate that a whopping 90 machines need replacing by the end of next year out of a total of around 260. So you can see that this is no mean feat. And it’s not cheap.

Replacing the machines will mean that more patients can benefit from these treatments. And the new machines will also help support research to improve and advance radiotherapy treatments even further.

What next?

At the moment there isn’t much detail about how this money will be handed out. So we’ll be keeping a close eye on how this happens.

Radiotherapy is sometimes mistakenly thought of as old fashioned but new techniques have made it an even more important part of cancer treatment

– Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK

But one thing is for sure, this is great news for patients.

Our chief executive, Sir Harpal Kumar, said the money “will change the face of cancer treatment across England.”

“Modern radiotherapy plays a vital part in curing cancer for thousands of patients and the technological advances in recent years has been immense,” he adds.

“Radiotherapy is sometimes mistakenly thought of as old fashioned but new techniques have made it an even more important part of cancer treatment.

“This has been at the top of Cancer Research UK’s wish list for many years as well as being a key priority in the cancer strategy.”

And today’s investment in state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines will be a big boost to improving cancer survival for thousands in England.

Emlyn Samuel is a senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK

  • This investment is for the NHS in England only. The Scottish Government regularly invests in the latest radiotherapy equipment and recently committed a further £50m in radiotherapy, including £39m on new machines, over the next 5 years. In Wales, recent investment in new machines in Cardiff is good, but we would like to see a more joined up approach to ensure new machines are equally distributed across the country. In Northern Ireland a new radiotherapy centre in Altnagevin is being built so more patients can get these treatments.

Comments

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Richard Simcock November 18, 2016

Do you have any information as to how this money will be allocated around the country? Competitive tendering? Need? In Sussex all of the Linear Accelerators are more than 12 years old and for two weeks of the last three two of them have been broken but no word (yet) from NHS England about this money. Do you have any clues?

Kunal Bharat Patel November 3, 2016

Spending more on Radiotherapy equipment is one way of going about it. I’ll state what is written at the top of the page

‘It was around 4 years ago that we first raised the issue that England’s radiotherapy machines were becoming out of date and needed to be replaced.’

So we are now takeling and spending millions on furthering technology. Fair enough that’s what we do we adapt we evolve.

We know many reasons why we could get cancer depending on the individual’s mind strength and immune system. Some people smoke all their lives and don’t get it, some people smoke all their lives and get cancer which isn’t related to smoking, and others do!

Almost everything we eat, buy from shops, frozen food, cooking in microwave, not drinking enough real water. (not tap water which has been through other people’s body’s and passed out which we use chemicals to “apparently” clean) we then use other chemicals to balance it out. The water from taps is dead water it has no presence in your body, it comes straight out.

We need to go back to the days when cancer wasn’t 1 in 2 people (2016), and think why had it changed so much. It was only a few years ago when it was 1 in 3!

As far as I know you can’t catch cancer from someone else?! Life with money and power in this world makes it difficult for the general person to buy good food for the entire family. People are becoming lazy (struggling!) to find time to either grow their own organic foods or they don’t make enough money working 40 hours a week to buy organic healthy food. It’s just like drinking tap water with loads of chemicals rather than natural water which is filtered naturally through stone and rocks and absorb minerals which our bodies actually need and use. Organic foods with some genuine advice of what benefits you get from it, or what doesn’t nourish your body as the general public think, (have been told or not been told).

I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2013 which had been slow growing for how many years doctors don’t know, (doctors don’t know everything, they go by what they are taught in their education). Especially in the UK we are limited experiments then answers that they can only explain!!

A TRUE SCIENTIST KNOWS THAT HE/SHE DOESN’T KNOW MUCH AT ALL. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE WE NEED TO LEARN TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

There had been cases of cancers disappearing from people’s bodies by becoming more 1 with nature. Eat natural foods, drink natural water not another person’s piss cleaned up by man made chemicals, EXERCISE! You only need to do 20 minutes of getting your heart racing, and breathe into and out of your stomach not your chest (Basic YOGA will do wonders!)

There are many things that our current world we live in should change, but they just keep upgrading computers and systems..
What does this lead to for the companies that provide the treatment – – MONEY which means power nowadays!

LOOK AFTER YOURSELVES BETTER. THINK AND READ WHAT YOU ARE PUTTING INTO YOUR MOUTH. AS THAT ESSENTIALLY IS WHAT YOUR MADE OF

!!!!! SMARTEN UP PEOPLE. !!!!!

All these facts and information is in front of you.
Don’t believe the first thing you read on the Internet!

Lots of love and best wishes from me

Kunal Bharat Patel

[The Website I Have Provided Below Is Just One Of Many, But It will not Be near The Top Of Any Search You do. Research Properly! ]

John Frank November 3, 2016

Great news, but as you rightly point out the latest equipment needs to be made available throughout the country and not only in major cities. Here in Wales Cardiff may well have been provided with IMRT but in Powys, the largest county in Wales and one of the largest in the U.K. we don’t even have a single General Hospital, the attitude of the Assembly Government apparently being that there are more sheep than people in Powys so there’s no need. It’s certainly not the best place to be suffering from cancer; my late wife was forced to make frequent day-long trips trips to Manchester for treatment.

Prof Clyde D F Hopkins November 2, 2016

An informative, very clear and positive article.

Nick Peel October 27, 2016

Hi Amanda,
Thanks for your question.
The investment will pay for new machines can deliver more precise types of radiotherapy, such as IMRT. It doesn’t include investment in proton beam therapy facilities, but the government has already committed to building two state-of-the-art high-energy proton beam facilities in the UK by 2018 – one at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, the other at UCL Hospital in London – at a total cost of £250 million. You can read more about the proton beam therapy centres here.
Best wishes,
Nick, Cancer Research UK

Amanda October 26, 2016

Is this Proton Beam?

S.Akerman October 25, 2016

Great! I was referred by Addenbrookes to Barts for radiotherapy in AUGUST ,I’ll still be waiting JANUARY 2017 for treatment to my brain tumour! Not Great .

Veronica daynes gonzalez October 25, 2016

Having survived Cancer 3 times in 23 years this is wonderful news but the Government need to make it to everyone who needs it no matter where you live. Good luck to all Cancer patients You will survive with time and patience.