Shocking lack of radiation know-how among docs
JUNIOR doctors are ill-prepared to talk to cancer patients about radiation therapy because they just don't know enough about it - despite an ever-increasing number of Australians battling the disease.
An alarming new study which will be presented to an industry conference this weekend found that most medical degrees are dedicating fewer than five days of training to radiation therapy.
The report also found that 90 per cent of Australian and New Zealand medical schools didn't have a formal curriculum in radiation oncology while half weren't offering any formal training at all.
The study noted that "physicians outside of oncology report a significant discomfort and little training in oncological and survivorship management, which can eventually impede multidisciplinary oncologic care".
It comes as forecasts show by 2040 about two million Australians will be living with or will have survived cancer.
Westmead Hospital oncologist and study co-author Professor Sandra Turner said radiation therapy was the future of non-invasive cancer treatment and medical schools needed to give it more focus.
"Worryingly, of the medical schools 75 per cent - at least - said they weren't going to focus more on it," Prof Turner said.
"Not only is it bad now but people don't even have it on their radar to make it better."
The report surveyed 16 of the 24 medical schools in Australia and New Zealand and will be used to advocate for a greater focus on radiation oncology.
Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells.
Prof Turner said it tended to be used for local cancers and was less invasive than chemotherapy or drug treatment, because it was so locally targeted.
She said all doctors needed an understanding of how it worked, because they needed to know when to refer patients to radiation oncologists.
The study backs up another recent Australian report which found 75 per cent of junior doctors felt they were unable to confidently discuss radiation therapy with patients.
Prof Turner said the lack of medical school training meant junior doctors were at risk at being ill-prepared to care for cancer patients adequately.
"For many cancer patients, radiation therapy could be their preferred and/or most effective treatment option," Prof Turner said.
"All cancer patients for whom radiation therapy might be an option should see a radiation oncologist to understand the pros and cons.
"Only then can they make fully informed decisions about treatment.
"All doctors having knowledge of the role of radiation therapy is vital in ensuring this occurs."
Prof Turner said many medical students also didn't get exposure to cancer patients receiving radiation therapy because most of them were outpatients.