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Not enough radiotherapy machines to meet Ireland's cancer needs - study

The Lancet study showed that there is a 4 per cent unmet need in Ireland.

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Image: Johnny Green/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A NEW STUDY shows that there are “wide disparities” in access to radiotherapy services around Europe.

The Lancet Oncology analysis shows the reality of radiotherapy services in 33 countries across Europe, and shows that in several western European countries there are too few radiotherapy machines to ensure that cancer patients in need of radiotherapy receive treatment.

In Ireland, there are 10 radiotherapy centres, with 26 machines, so 2.6 machines on average per centre. That makes 5.8 machines per million people. There are approximately 19,300 people with cancer and 12,063 radiotherapy treatments retreatments needed.

The researchers say the figures equate to a 4 per cent unmet need in Ireland.

In Italy around 16 per cent  of need is unmet, in Portugal 19 per cent, Austria 20 per cent, and the UK and Germany 21 per cent. However, the authors say that these apparent gaps in treatment supply may be compensated by more efficient organisation of radiotherapy provision.

Variation

Availability of radiotherapy services varies widely between countries and regions within Europe. For example, Nordic countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are well-equipped with radiotherapy machines to meet the demand for treatment. In comparison, most countries in eastern and southeastern Europe are insufficiently equipped and have the greatest need to expand and modernise their equipment.

On average, the study found that countries have 5.3 teletherapy (the most common form of radiotherapy) machines per million people, but the number ranged from fewer than two per million (Macedonia and Romania) to more than eight per million(Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium). Overall, 10 countries were found to have an insufficient number of machines to meet estimated need, said the study, including Ireland.

Fragmentation of radiotherapy services exists in 28 of the 33 countries studied, the research shows, with Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Slovenia having a more centralised set-up, operating a high number (between four and ten) of machines in each centre.

The authors comment:

The fragmentation in radiotherapy services that prevails in many European countries might affect the economic burden of radiotherapy and its quality.

But they emphasised that although their results do not prove whether differences in equipment and organisation have an effect on cancer outcome, “they do warrant further investigation into how to optimise the efficiency of radiotherapy services”.

Currently, 3.2 million Europeans are diagnosed with cancer every year, with roughly half of those requiring radiotherapy at some point.

The researchers say that this new data should enable governments, European Union bodies, and international organisations to see at a glance how adequate the provision of radiotherapy is in each European country.

Read: Radiotherapy may increase diabetes risk for some childhood cancer survivors>

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