Thousands of cancer patients 'missing out on the best treatments', study finds

The radiotherapy department at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, west London. Credit: PA

Thousands of people are missing out on the best cancer treatments, research has found, with 50 per cent unaware of more advanced types of radiotherapy.

Despite most NHS units being able to deliver a newer kind of treatment, a shortage of trained doctors - including radiotherapy physicists and clinical oncologists - means it is not being used to its full capability.

Emlyn Samuel, senior policy manager Cancer Research UK's which carried out the study, said the findings supported calls for "substantial investment" to modernise the radiotherapy service.

Half of the more than 2,000 questioned said they had never heard of newer radiotherapy technologies - including Cyberknife and Gammaknife.

Just under a third had heard of proton beam therapy, which works by targeting cancer cells directly, sparing the healthy surrounding tissue.

The survey also asked people which cancer treatments they believed should be prioritised on the NHS.

  • 57% said chemotherapy

  • 29% said surgery

  • 9% said radiotherapy

  • 5% said alternative treatments should be offered first

Chairman of the Radiotherapy Awareness Programme, Diana Tait, said she was "shocked" only nine per cent of people had picked radiotherapy as a priority, given then 40 per cent of cancer patients who are cured have had the therapy as part of their treatment.