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Dr Noelle O'Rourke, co-author
"The main problem is a lack of long term planning"
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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Treatment is vital - the delays in getting it unacceptable"
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Professor Michael Richards, National Cancer Director
"We do not have enough therapy radiographers"
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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
Cancer victims hit by treatment delays

The report blames a shortage of radiotherapy machines
Cancers are becoming inoperable because a shortage of radiotherapy machines is holding back treatment, warns an expert.

The report, published in the journal Clinical Oncology, found some people had to wait as long as six months before their treatment for lung cancer began.

Lung cancer is a notoriously hard-to-treat cancer, with only a 5% survival rate.



The waiting times in this country are unacceptable

Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director
However, research suggests that if diagnosed early, then tackled with high dose chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or both, in its earliest stages, chances of survival are boosted.

The study at the Beatson Oncology Centre, at Glasgow's Western Infirmary, showed that 29 cancer patients had to wait between 18 days and more than four months between their diagnosis and second CT scan.


Dr O'Rourke
Dr Noelle O'Rourke: "Other cancer patients could be affected"
The government has made tackling cancer a priority with ministers saying no one should wait more than two weeks to see a specialist in suspected cancer cases.

It is also investing millions of pounds of lottery money to both replace older scanners and radiotherapy machines and invest in new ones.

In six cases patients were told their tumours had grown so large - while they were waiting - they were now deemed incurable.

Dr Noelle O'Rourke, one of the report authors, said that while it was a small study its results had national implications.

Other cancers affected

She also warned that other patients with fast-growing cancers, such as head and neck and cervical cancer, could face worse outcomes as a result of the shortages.



Waiting times are not dissimilar throughout the whole of the UK

Dr Noelle O'Rourke, Beatson Institute
She told BBC Radio Scotland: "The waiting time is not just a Glasgow problem, it is a national problem and the Royal College has issued a statement emphasising that fact.

"Waiting times are not dissimilar throughout the whole of the UK."

She also said that while no cure can be guaranteed with lung cancer, waiting times played a critical part in survival roles.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the government's National Cancer Director, Professor Mike Richards, conceded that more needed to be done, both to bring in new equipment and to train up the staff needed to operate them.

He said: "We have not yet committed the extra money but we are developing a national cancer plan - I believe this is a high priority and that we will be putting in these new machines.

"I think that the radiotherapy service in this country is a vital part of our service - the waiting times in this country are unacceptable."

Later, Professor Gordon McVie, director-general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said the report highlighted the need for urgent action on waiting times for cancer patients.

He said: "What it is saying is that we know there is a solution and the Government and Scottish Executive know there is a solution. They are saying they are going to provide it but in the meantime people are still waiting."

"The solution is meaningless to them as they will be dead before it is in place."

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