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Home Radiation Oncology What is Radiation Therapy?

What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is a safe, effective way to treat cancer. It is a well established treatment. Radiation therapy offers clear benefits to patients. It allows organ preservation, preserves quality of life, reduces pain and improves survival. 

Radiation therapy can be used to treat almost all cancers, anywhere in the body. It can be used alone or with other treatments like surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be given to cure cancers or to give symptom relief when cure is not possible. More than half of all cancers diagnosed in Australia today are cured. Radiation therapy is vital to this success. Ideally, about 50 per cent of cancer patients should have radiation therapy at some time during their illness. Sadly, this does not happen in reality in Australia.

How does radiation therapy work?

Radiation therapy aims to kill cancer cells but avoid damage to the structure and function of nearby healthy tissue.

Cancer patients meet a Radiation Oncologist (a specialist doctor) to see if radiation therapy can be help them. The treatment plan for a patient is usually discussed with doctors from other specialities (e.g. surgery and medical oncology).

Patients having radiotherapy have multidisciplinary team care, because they have complex needs. The team is made of radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiation therapists, nurses and allied health professionals. The multidisciplinary team is focussed on quality, the patient's needs and achieving the best possible outcomes for the patient and their family.

Beneficial advances in radiation therapy

Technological advances mean that radiation oncologists can see 3D images of tumours. This means they can direct radiation beams very precisely so less normal tissue is affected. Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and Image-guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) allow radiation oncologists to better see and target tumours. The radiation dose can be closely fitted to the tumour. This reduces radiation dose to important structures like the spinal cord or parts of the brain.

Unique benefits and cost effectiveness of radiation therapy

Nothing can replace radiotherapy to achieve the same benefit and cost-effectiveness for patients with cancer treated for cure or pain relief for symptoms.

Radiation therapy costs about 6 per cent of each health dollar spent  fighting cancer, but it is a vital part of curing about 40 per cent of all cured cancers.

Radiation therapy is usually given as an out-patient treatment. This makes radiation therapy cheaper than other cancer treatments. Each year of life saved in Australia by radiation therapy costs us less than those saved using other cancer treatments.

Setting up a radiation therapy facility is expensive but each centre has a long life and can give treatment to many patients for many years. New technological advances in radiation therapy have made life better for cancer patients in recent years. Ongoing investment in new technology is vital, so Australians can keep on benefiting from high quality, world standard radiation therapy.