Half of people unaware of advanced life-saving radiotherapy

Cancer Research UK

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.

“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.” - Diana Tait, chair of the Radiotherapy Awareness Programme

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.”

ENDS

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

Notes to Editor

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,081 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 19th June 2015.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

  • Before taking this survey, which, if any, of the following types of radiotherapy had you heard of?

All GB adults: 2081

Intensity-modulated radiotherpy (IMRT) 4%
Stereotactic radiotherapy/ stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) 3%
Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT) 9%
Proton beam therapy 30%
Brachytherapy 5%
Radiofrequency ablation 7%
Cyberknife 4%
Gammaknife 6%
Higgs-Boson radiotherapy 6% [Red herring option]
Carbon ion radiotherapy 3% [Red herring option]
None of these 50%
Prefer not to say 11%

 

  • Now thinking about specific types of cancer treatments/ tests, and not just about radiotherapy...Which, if any, of the following specific types of cancer treatments/ tests had you heard of before taking this survey?

All GB adults: 2081

Immunotherapy 19%
Personalised drugs (i.e. particular combinations, suited to a particular person etc.)  29%
Monoclonal antibodies (MABs) 5%
High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant  26%
Tablet chemotherapy 28%
Molecular diagnostic tests 6%
Robotically-assisted surgery/ Da Vinci robot  12%
Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery 39%
None of these 32%
Prefer not to say  11%
  • What level of priority do you think the NHS should give to funding each of the following four types of cancer treatments?

All GB adults who gave an opinion: 1877

Treatment 1st Priority 2nd Priority 3rd Priority Lowest Priority
Chemotherapy & other drug treatments  57% 29% 10% 4%
Surgery 29% 35% 31% 5%
Radiotherapy 9% 32% 53% 5%
Alternative Treatments 5% 4% 6% 86%

 

**The Radiotherapy Awareness Programme (RAP) – previously called the National Radiotherapy Awareness Initiative - was set up in 2010 as a result of a recommendation in Cancer Research UK’s 2009 report: Achieving a world class radiotherapy service across the UK, to bring individuals and organisations together to promote radiotherapy. It aims to increase awareness of radiotherapy in order to influence the government and the NHS to improve radiotherapy services and reduce inequalities for patients in being able to get the most advanced treatments. 
RAP commissioned a survey with YouGov to examine public awareness of radiotherapy – following similar surveys in 2009 and 2011. 

***Monitoring IMRT Delivery in the UK – by Natcansat http://www.natcansat.nhs.uk/dlhandler.ashx?d=pubs&f=UKRO_IMRT 

****The Cancer Taskforce strategy recommends that linear accelerators (LINACs) are replaced after 10 years in operation, to assure patient safety and enable up-to-date innovations.  A  LINAC is the device most commonly to give cancer patients radiotherapy.

The NHS Commissioning Board, 2013/14 NHS Standard Contract for Radiotherapy audit of radiotherapy equipment showed that 126 LINACs were between five and nine years old in 2013, and should be replaced in the next three years following the report. A further 58 LINACs will need upgrading in the next three years after the report in order to provide more innovative treatment.