The Institute for Cancer Research, London (ICR) is urging the government to invest in advanced radiotherapy in a bid to address the backlog in NHS cancer care that has accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICR is calling on the government to address funding gaps for high-precision radiotherapy, and also combat patient scepticism of radiotherapy as an ‘outdated’ treatment.

As well as increased funding, ICR added that a nationally coordinated approach to support delivery of the latest radiotherapy research advances is also needed.

This comes as a survey of 2,5000 people demonstrated widespread misconceptions about radiotherapy, with only 8% of respondents from the general population considering radiotherapy to be cutting-edge.

This is much lower compared with the 50% for targeted drugs, 43% for immunotherapy and 58% for proton beam therapy.

ICR commented that research over the last 20 years has been ‘highly’ successful at targeting radiation more successfully at tumours using advanced imaging, and delivering radiotherapy in streamlined regimens.

New techniques, however, are often restricted to major specialist centres, meaning patients are missing out or have to travel long distances to receive treatments or participate in clinical trials.

ICR added that during the pandemic, radiotherapy could offer a safer treatment option compared to chemotherapy or surgery in certain cases, as it involves fewer and shorter visits to hospital.

“We are urging the Government to invest in radiotherapy, for the immediate benefit of cancer patients during the pandemic, and in the long term to put in place access to clinical trials and new radiotherapy technologies in every part of the UK,” said Kevin Harrington, head of radiotherapy and imaging at ICR.

“Radiotherapy is the unsung hero of cancer treatments but so often it isn’t seen as a funding priority. We have to address radiotherapy’s PR problem, persuade patients that this treatment is cutting edge and highly sophisticated, and put in place systems to support nationwide clinical trials and the rollout of new technologies,” he added.