Feds drag feet funding life-saving prostate cancer treatment

MAKING HIS POINT: North Coast Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Professor Tom Shakespeare has led new research into prostate cancer treatment.
MAKING HIS POINT: North Coast Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Professor Tom Shakespeare has led new research into prostate cancer treatment. Contributed

AN eight-year study spearheaded by a Northern Rivers cancer specialist has shown radiation therapy is 95% effective at treating prostate cancer.

However, the head of Australia and New Zealand's radiology peak body has accused the Federal Government of "dragging its feet" on funding the treatment with as few as one in 10 Australian prostate cancer patients receiving it.

In the study, Professor Tom Shakespeare from the North Coast Cancer Institute compared the effectiveness of external-beam radiation therapy with other common treatment options on patients at cancer centres in Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.

The research, which was published in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology, shows external-beam radiation therapy is 95% effective for prostate cancer.

"These are great results showing that radiation therapy is as effective, or even better, than other common treatment options such as surgery or brachytherapy," Prof Shakespeare said.

"In fact, based on the literature reviewed it appears that external-beam radiation therapy is a superior treatment in many cases."

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Australian men. More than 3000 men die of prostate cancer in Australia every year.

Prof Shakespeare said the success rate of radiation therapy far exceeds the 40-50% success rate associated with prostate surgery or brachytherapy.

Research also indicates that external-beam radiation therapy has some of the lowest side-effect rates of the treatments.

Prof Shakespeare said he was proud of the research done in the North Coast oncology centres which rival those in metropolitan centres.

"We can use this research to show people you can get good or even better results right here in Lismore," he said.

"People shouldn't have to travel and be out of pocket."

Dean of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, Dion Forstner, said despite the treatment being a "critical part" of radiation therapy, the Federal Government had been "dragging their feet" on funding.

"This is a world-class treatment that has already been accepted internationally," he said.

"At present one in four patients in the UK that receive radiation therapy are treated with this technique but in Australia that is as low as one in 10 only.

"The Medical Services Advisory Committee has again deferred making a decision on funding this treatment appropriately under the Medicare Benefits Schedule."

Topics:  cancer prostate cancer radiation therapy

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