The research also shows taxpayers could be forced to foot a $600 million bill for an explosion in cancer treatment services nationally over the next 15 years, with the number of radiation therapy treatments for cancer to increase from 1.74 million a year in 2016 to 2.7 million by 2031.
Australia currently needs radiation therapy capacity to treat an additional 10,000 patients per year, which will reach 50,000 patients per year in 2031 without additional investment in linear accelerators – or linacs – that are used in this therapy.
Mark Wallace, RPS Regional Technical Director for Economics, said Australia already has close to 200 linac machines, but this number was not meeting community need.
“Australia currently has a shortfall of 27 linacs. That means one in every ten cancer sufferers could face problems getting the treatment they need. Demand is expected to grow rapidly, with the shortfall to reach about 122 linacs by 2031,” Mr Wallace said.
“Without these linacs, more than half of cancer suffers could go without treatment.”
Mr Wallace said the ageing Baby Boomer generation would be the biggest factor in the growth in demand for radiation therapy over the next 15 years.
“Data from State Cancer Councils and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows cancer incidence rates are much higher among older Australians. As the population ages, the number of cancer sufferers increases as well.”
Building new cancer treatment capacity is not cheap with each linear accelerator costing about $5 million to procure.
“Australian Governments – both State and Federal – would need to find more than $600 million to buy the linacs needed to deliver radiation therapies to cancer sufferers,” Mr Wallace said.
“This cost doesn’t include other infrastructure like radiation proof bunkers, facility buildings or the costs to Medicare and the patient of the treatment itself.”
Mark Middleton, CEO of Australia’s leading private cancer treatment provider, Icon Group, says it’s critical for Government to partner with the private sector to meet the emerging gap between radiation treatment capacity and community need.
“The size of the challenge we are all facing is immense,” Mr Middleton said. “Only through genuine collaboration between Government and private providers can Australians get the level and quality of care they deserve into the future.”
Radiation Oncology Centres – Icon Group’s radiation oncology division – has an established network of radiation oncology treatment centres across Queensland and New South Wales and is rapidly expanding across Australia to meet growing need from the community.
“Cancer sufferers in regional Australia deserve more equitable access to life-saving radiation therapy,” Mr Middleton said.
“Additionally, communities in suburban parts of Melbourne and Perth are making long commutes to access treatment in inner-city locations. We need to deliver these services in a more accessible way and that means taking cancer care to the suburbs and regional areas”.
The Australian Government approves all new linacs while State Health Departments are the largest providers of radiation therapies for cancer patients through tertiary public hospitals.