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Radiotherapy in Cancer Care: New IAEA Publication Available

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An IAEA publication published this month — Radiotherapy in Cancer Care: Facing the Global Challenge — presents an overview of the major issues related to planning and implementing radiotherapy, including the IAEA’s support to global efforts to enhance cancer care.

There are many textbooks of radiation oncology and medical radiation physics, but the new book by IAEA experts fills a gap. “This publication is unique in that it provides a comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the role of radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer from a global perspective,” said Eduardo Zubizarreta, Head of IAEA Applied Radiation Biology and Radiotherapy Section, adding that it is a useful reference source for healthcare managers, clinical  and radiation oncologists, programme directors when decisions or policies are implemented to integrate radiotherapy for cancer care into their national, regional or global programmes.

The publication will be featured at next week’s second International Conference on Advances in Radiation Oncology (ICARO2), the IAEA’s conference discussing ways to improve access to radiotherapy and the importance of radiotherapy in the context of national cancer control strategies.

The publication consolidates data on the current status of radiotherapy services around the world, established and novel technologies, social and economic factors, current issues and the role of international organizations in enhancing cancer care.

Cancer treatment is complex and calls for a diverse set of services with radiotherapy being an essential tool for the management of cancer patients. Currently, access to radiation treatment is limited in many countries and does not exist in a few others. This publication provides focused guidance on specific issues to be addressed in implementing radiotherapy integrated in cancer care programmes, establishing oncology and radiotherapy centres, in particular in developing countries.

This publication also includes information on the IAEA’s Directory of Radiotherapy Centres (DIRAC), which is the world’s authoritative source of information on radiotherapy infrastructure and centres. The database includes more than 7600 radiotherapy centres and about 13 000 teletherapy and 2600 brachytherapy machines from around the world.

These radiotherapy machines play an important role in the fight against cancer, Zubizarreta said. The DIRAC global survey shows dramatic discrepancies that need to be addressed, he added. “In high income countries, one radiotherapy machine is available for every 120 000 people. In middle income countries, one machine serves over 1 million people. In low income countries, about 5 million people rely upon a single radiotherapy machine.”

A vision of the future

The publication provides information on the latest advances in radiation therapy and the medical equipment upgrades necessary for beneficial results during cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

Written with health care managers and practitioners in mind, the book discusses latest technologies, such as proton beam therapy, carbon ion radiotherapy, intra-operative radiotherapy as well as current trends in technology and biology.

Progress in radiation oncology is based mostly on three pillars, said Eduardo Rosenblatt, one of the editors of the publication: technological advances that allow delivering a dose of radiation high enough to destroy the tumour cells to a limited volume of tissue without inducing severe irreversible damage to the healthy organs; biological and radiobiological research that looks for strategies to induce killing of cancer cells in a selective way, taking advantage of molecular and genetic mechanisms; and clinical trials of high quality that are able to provide scientific evidence to demonstrate that one treatment approach is superior to another, which is the objective behind evidence-based radiation oncology.

But it is only through partnerships among international organizations, universities, cancer centres, financial institutions and non-governmental organizations that strengthening radiotherapy services can be effectively addressed and reach those in need, Rosenblatt said. “Collaboration and partnerships are the way to go and this is the philosophy behind the book. We hope this publication will make a valuable contribution to improving access to radiotherapy services worldwide.”

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