The role of radiotherapy in cancer treatment: estimating optimal utilization from a review of evidence-based clinical guidelines

Cancer. 2005 Sep 15;104(6):1129-37. doi: 10.1002/cncr.21324.


Radiotherapy utilization rates for cancer vary widely internationally. It has previously been suggested that approximately 50% of all cancer patients should receive radiation. However, this estimate was not evidence-based. The aim of this study was to estimate the ideal proportion of new cases of cancer that should receive radiotherapy at least once during the course of their illness based on the best available evidence. An optimal radiotherapy utilization tree was constructed for each cancer based upon indications for radiotherapy taken from evidence-based treatment guidelines. The proportion of patients with clinical attributes that indicated a possible benefit from radiotherapy was obtained by adding epidemiologic data to the radiotherapy utilization tree. The optimal proportion of patients with cancer that should receive radiotherapy was then calculated using TreeAge (TreeAge Software, Williamstown, MA) software. Sensitivity analyses using univariate analysis and Monte Carlo simulations were performed. The proportion of patients with cancer in whom external beam radiotherapy is indicated according to the best available evidence was calculated to be 52%. Monte Carlo analysis indicated that the 95% confidence limits were from 51.7% to 53.1%. The tightness of the confidence interval suggests that the overall estimate is robust. Comparison with actual radiotherapy utilization data suggests a shortfall in actual radiotherapy delivery. This methodology allows comparison of optimal rates with actual rates to identify areas where improvements in the evidence-based use of radiotherapy can be made. It provides valuable data for radiotherapy service planning. Actual rates need to be addressed to ensure better radiotherapy utilization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Radiotherapy / statistics & numerical data