Radiotherapy courses

Over 63,500 courses of radiotherapy were reported in 2016–17.

This compares to a total of about 60,600 in 2015–16, 56,400 in 2014–15, and 47,700 in 2013–14. However, the data collection coverage was incomplete in 2013–14 and 2014–15 (see Radiotherapy activity and collection participation).

In 2016–17 public providers delivered 7 in 10 courses (over 45,000), with the majority of those courses provided in New South Wales and Victoria. Private providers delivered the remaining 3 in 10 courses reported (18,500). Data for courses delivered in the private sector are not presented by state and territory to protect the privacy of individual service providers.

What is a course of radiotherapy in this report?

In this report, a course of radiotherapy is defined as follows:

  • A course of radiotherapy is a series of one or more external beam radiotherapy treatments prescribed by a radiation oncologist.

  • A course of radiotherapy should have an associated ready-for-care date and, when treatment starts, a radiotherapy start date.

  • A patient can receive more than one course of radiotherapy at the same time (courses that are simultaneous or overlap). These courses may have the same or different ready-for-care dates and the same or different radiotherapy start dates.

  • Only a radiation oncologist can prescribe a course of radiotherapy. A prescription is not equal to a course of radiotherapy. A prescription may be for one or more courses of radiotherapy. A prescription outlines the anatomical region/sites to be treated and is for a prescribed dose at a defined volume (fractionation) over a defined period.

  • One course of radiotherapy may cover multiple phases and multiple treatment plans.

 Interactive figure 1 presents data for 2013–14 to 2017–18, by sex and by:

  • age group,
  • intent of treatment,
  • emergency status, and
  • top 10 principal diagnoses.

Key points for radiotherapy courses started in 2017–18

  • Just over half (52%) of all courses of radiotherapy were provided to males, and 48% to females.

  • Up until the age of 60, females make up the greater portion of radiotherapy courses, but as people move into their early 60s this pattern reverses.

  • 89% of courses were delivered to people aged 50 and over, and 1.4% were delivered to people aged 30 or under,

  • 60% of radiotherapy courses were intended to cure disease, 39% were palliative, and 0.3% were prophylactic (i.e. to prevent disease).

  • 1.4% of courses were clinically assessed as emergency treatment (that is, radiation treatment should begin within 24 hours), with 99% of these cases being palliative.

Excluding the relatively high number of cases where Indigenous status was not stated (35%), the proportion of courses provided to Indigenous patients in 2017–18 was 1.4%; Indigenous people comprised 3.1% of the Australian population in 2015 (ABS 2015).