This indicator provides an overview of system-wide radiotherapy activity in Australia, as provided through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). For the purposes of these analyses, cancer related treatments include “key selected radiotherapy procedures performed with the general intent to change the outcome of the cancer and/ or provide symptom relief/palliative care”. There are two main modes of radiotherapy delivery for the treatment of cancer – internal and external beam radiotherapy1:
Internal/ systemic radiotherapy
- Internal radiotherapy involves delivery of radiation via a needle, catheter or another specialised device. Delivery may be via two mechanisms:
- Implantation of sealed radioactive sources inside the body into or near the tumour (also called brachytherapy).
- Delivery of liquid radioisotopes (radioactive drugs) given by mouth or put into a vein (intravenous delivery), these drugs then travel throughout the body.
External beam radiotherapy
- External beam radiotherapy (called external beam radiation) uses a machine to beam radiation (x-rays or gamma rays) at the tumour.1 The area that receives radiation is very precise, minimising the amount of radiation on surrounding healthy areas. It is used in the treatment of a wide range of cancer types including breast, lung, prostate and gynaecological cancers.2
- External beam radiotherapy delivery can be broadly grouped into 3 categories, primarily based on the depth of penetration of the radiation:
- Superficial radiotherapy utilises low energy ionizing radiation to treat cancer and other conditions that occur either on, or close to the skin surface.
- LINAC radiotherapy using a machine called a linear accelerator (also called a LINAC), which uses electricity to create high-energy radiation for treatment of tumours deep within the body.
- Other types of external beam radiotherapy - including deep or orthovoltage radiotherapy, cobalt/caesium radiotherapy and stereotactic radiotherapy.
More than 99% of radiotherapy services billed to the MBS are external beam radiotherapy (refer diagram A), and almost 97% of these are performed using a linear accelerator (LINAC; refer diagram B). This indicator of radiotherapy activity therefore primarily focuses on LINAC radiotherapy treatment activity.
*Example data shown are for 2013. Brachytherapy is often administered on an admitted patient basis and may not be included in MBS data.
Specific information about data sources, and guidance for interpreting the data, can be found in the ‘About the Data’ tab and definitions of key terms are provided in the ‘Glossary’ page.