36,000 urge No 10 to improve radiotherapy services across the country

Cancer Research UK

More than 36,000 people have joined Cancer Research UK’s Voice for Radiotherapy campaign to call on the government to improve radiotherapy services in England.

The Voice for Radiotherapy petition – submitted to No 10 Downing Street today (Thursday) – urges the government to ensure that everyone who needs radiotherapy gets it. It also wants all services to have enough properly trained staff, to provide the most effective kind of treatment and to plan properly for the future.

As people are living longer, the number of cancer cases is expected to increase. Planning for the future is vital if the health service is going to meet the increased demand for radiotherapy.

Differences in staffing levels, equipment and access to newer technologies across the country also means some health trusts are failing to offer equal opportunities for patients to receive radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy is recommended for half of all cancer patients as part of their treatment and radiotherapy helps to cure more people than cancer drugs. To date around only 40 per cent have radiotherapy.

Newer, more targeted radiotherapy techniques such as intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) are transforming the lives of cancer patients. These newer ways of delivering radiotherapy mean cancer cells are targeted more precisely, increasing cure rates, and patients experience fewer side effects.

2011 has been designated the Year of Radiotherapy to celebrate a century of the treatment and to mark 100 years since Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize for her work on the radioactive element, radium. It was this work that helped further the field of using radiation as a medical treatment, and earning Marie Curie the modern nickname of ‘Godmother of radiotherapy’. The campaign aims to improve public understanding and awareness of the value of radiotherapy.

Barbara Freedman, 71 from Edgware, joined campaigners from Cancer Research UK at Downing Street to hand in the petition.

Barbara - a retired business manager, mother and grandmother - was inspired to campaign for better cancer services after losing her own mother to the disease and seeing numerous friends and family members go through treatment.

Barbara said: “I’m passionate about raising awareness of radiotherapy because so many people see it as scary and old fashioned. That’s simply not the case. I lost my mother to liver cancer in 1962 and it’s amazing to see how far cancer treatments like radiotherapy have evolved since then.

“Cancer touches so many people’s lives and when it affects your family you want to know that all the appropriate treatment options are available to your loved ones. So I’m calling on the Government to help make sure all cancer patients have equal access to high quality radiotherapy services when they need them. It could help to save people’s lives.”

Cancer Research UK scientists have been leading the way to make radiotherapy more accurate and effective. A major initiative launched by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council is the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology in Oxford, which opened in 2008.

The Institute brings together world-class scientists and doctors to transform the future of radiotherapy treatment for people with cancer. It was created to be the world's largest and most comprehensive centre for research in radiation oncology and biology.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “Cancer Research UK has been at the forefront of helping develop newer, more effective radiotherapy techniques that help cure cancer with reduced side effects. And while improvements have been seen in service delivery, England’s radiotherapy provision is still not world class. Too many people are still not able to access the latest radiotherapy treatments in a timely way to give them the best chance of surviving their cancer.

“Our campaign urges the government and health service to improve radiotherapy services and reduce inequalities in access to the best treatments. And among cancer patients and the public, it aims to raise awareness of the importance of radiotherapy as part of treatment for many cancers.

“The tens of thousands of people who have signed our petition are today calling on the government to keep a focus on radiotherapy – to improve services now and for the future.”

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, 07050 264 059.