IAEA Database Highlights Global Disparity in Access to Cancer Care

Demonstration of a patient set up for radiotherapy at the Vienna General Hospital in 2016. The IAEA promotes access to radiation therapy and its safe use. Photo: IAEA

Most radiotherapy facilities in the world are located in high-income countries, and at least 36 nations do not have any such equipment to treat cancer. These are some conclusions drawn from data in the revamped Directory of Radiotherapy Centres (DIRAC), launched today on the margins of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference.

With information from 141 countries, DIRAC is the most comprehensive database on radiotherapy infrastructure worldwide, showing centres where cancer can be treated and drawing attention to locations where patients have limited or no access at all.

The new DIRAC portal has been re-designed to be more user-friendly and to provide integrated data with better comparisons between countries and regions. The IAEA has been collecting data on radiotherapy centres since 1959.

“Professionals worldwide rely on DIRAC and request information every day. It is a powerful tool for planning radiotherapy services and for advocating better access to cancer treatment in developing countries,” said Joanna Izewska, head of the IAEA Dosimetry Laboratory in charge of DIRAC. “Our data show that, despite efforts to improve the situation in recent decades, a lot is still needed to provide adequate access to cancer care.”

A Lancet Oncology Report in 2015 estimated that 50 percent to 60 percent of all cancer patients will need radiotherapy at some point during their treatment. DIRAC highlights current and future needs in cancer care: thousands of additional radiotherapy machines and substantial staff training are required to cover the current gap in access to treatment in low- and middle- income countries. In addition, more than 300 radiotherapy machines registered in the database are older than 30 years and will need to be replaced.

DIRAC data is derived from IAEA dosimetry audit services operated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other audit networks, collected from radiotherapy centres, national databases and manufacturers. The database contains data on radiotherapy machines, radiation sources, staff in radiotherapy centres, and on the type and age of equipment.