Access to Radiation Therapy: From Local to Global and Equality to Equity
The discipline of radiation oncology is the most resource-intensive component of comprehensive cancer care because of significant initial investments required for machines, the requirement of dedicated construction, a multifaceted workforce, and recurring maintenance costs. This review focuses on the challenges associated with accessible and affordable radiation therapy (RT) across the globe and the possible solutions to improve the current scenario. Most common cancers globally, including breast, prostate, head and neck, and cervical cancers, have a RT utilization rate of > 50%. The estimated annual incidence of cancer is 19,292,789 for 2020, with > 70% occurring in low-income countries and low-middle-income countries. There are approximately 14,000 teletherapy machines globally. However, the distribution of these machines is distinctly nonuniform, with low-income countries and low-middle-income countries having access to < 10% of the global teletherapy machines. The Directory of Radiotherapy Centres enlists 3,318 brachytherapy facilities. Most countries with a high incidence of cervical cancer have a deficit in brachytherapy facilities, although formal estimates for the same are not available. The deficit in simulators, radiation oncologists, and medical physicists is even more challenging to quantify; however, the inequitable distribution is indisputable. Measures to ensure equitable access to RT include identifying problems specific to region/country, adopting indigenous technology, encouraging public-private partnership, relaxing custom duties on RT equipment, global/cross-country collaboration, and quality human resources training. Innovative research focusing on the most prevalent cancers aiming to make RT utilization more cost-effective while maintaining efficacy will further bridge the gap.