Government supports roll-out of sophisticated radiotherapy technique

In collaboration with the Press Association

The government is recommending that all suitable patients should be offered a sophisticated form of radiotherapy that involves examining their tumours with imaging techniques like CT scans over the course of their treatment.  

The new guidance, published by the National Cancer Action Team, outlines how all radiotherapy centres across England should be routinely making Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) available.

IGRT uses imaging techniques to improve or verify the accuracy of radiotherapy during the treatment delivery.

It allows healthcare professionals to see inside a patient’s body over the course of their treatment. This is important if, for example, a patient loses weight during a course of treatment, which can change the position of the tumour relative to the rest of the body.

The most advanced form of IGRT can also be used to adjust the position of the radiotherapy beam while treatment is being delivered.

The new guidance recommends that every patient should have a form of IGRT as part of their radiotherapy treatment, with the exact nature of the treatment varying between patients.

Over 40 per cent of radiotherapy centres in England have no IGRT facilities.

To support this guidance, the National Cancer Action Team is funding a seven month programme, free to all English NHS radiotherapy centres, to help encourage uptake of IGRT.

An online training tool, called “Radiotherap-e”, is also being produced by the professional radiotherapy bodies and the Department of Health which includes a module on IGRT. This will be available from November 2012.

Hilary Tovey, senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the new guidelines.

“Radiotherapy helps cure more cancers than cancer drugs. IGRT means that we can target radiotherapy better. This can reduce side effects, but may also mean we can treat some patients who might otherwise miss out. 

"All radiotherapy centres should take this guidance as a green light to make sure they’re giving patients the best, most up to date, treatments possible.”

But she warned that radiotherapy services needed to be prioritised during the changes to the NHS.

“Cancer Research UK continues to fund research to improve treatments for patients, and to work with the government to make sure that all cancer patients have access to the best radiotherapy regardless of where they live,” she added.

Charlotte Beardmore, Co-Chair of the National Radiotherapy Implementation Group, and Professional and Education Manager at the Society and College of Radiographers, said that implementing the guidance would involve cross-sector work from radiotherapy physicists, clinical oncologists and therapeutic radiographer services.

“This e-learning tool, and investment in a support programme, for services is so crucial. We hope services will take advantage of this great opportunity,” she added.