Expansion of radiotherapy services in NSW a win for patients and professionals

9 September 2010

Sixty one linear accelerators, the multimillion dollar radiation cancer treatment tool, are predicated to be operational in NSW by 2016 according to NSW Health's recently released strategic plan for radiotherapy services. This 33 per cent increase is set to improve accessibility to treatment and open up job opportunities for new graduates entering the profession.

"This will bring us much closer to the target of between 50 and 55 per cent of cancer patients receiving radiation treatment, and while alternative options like surgery will sometimes be more appropriate, it's important that those who could benefit have the option of radiation therapy," says Dr Jennifer Cox, Cancer Institute of NSW Associate Professor of Radiation Therapy.

With cancer recorded as the largest single cause of disease in Australia, and current treatment levels around 40 per cent of those diagnosed, this commitment is hugely significant.

Radiation Therapy graduate, Cindy Xin Xin Hills
Radiation Therapy graduate, Cindy Xin Xin Hills

Radiation Therapy graduate Cindy Xin Xin Hills agrees. She graduated from the University of Sydney last year after making the decision to quit her career in accounting and go back to full-time study.

"I experienced firsthand what cancer patients and family have to go through when two members of my family were diagnosed with cancer," said Cindy. "I was inspired by the professionalism and the caring nature of the health workers."

Cindy recently commenced working at the Cancer Care Centre at the Royal North Shore Hospital. "There is so much to learn," comments Cindy "This is one of the reasons that I like RT; it's a dynamic field which requires continuous learning."

"Many of our students are initially attracted to the profession because someone in their lives has been touched by cancer so these developments are not only important to them in terms of their careers, but more so in terms of what this means for patients," says Dr John Atyeo, Lecturer in Radiation Therapy at Sydney.

The 15 new machines will be operational across both public and private practices, with a particular focus on improving access in regional areas.

The NSW Government has committed over $45 million to establish new centres at Lismore and Orange and under the recently announced Commonwealth Government's Regional Cancer Care initiative, new treatment centres are planned for Tamworth, Nowra and Gosford. Two new private centres will also soon be launched in Hurstville and the Macquarie University Hospital, Ryde.

It is estimated that once all units are operational, over 95% of the NSW population will reside within 100 kilometres of a Radiation Oncology Treatment Centre.

Dr Atyeo suggests this will also mean a significant increase in the number of positions available and anticipates taking more students into Sydney University's graduate entry master's program.

"Our Master of Radiation Therapy program does not require previous experience in health or science and as such attracts students from a diverse range of backgrounds all of whom are passionate about making a difference to the lives of cancer patients," he said.