Radiation therapy accounts for over 50% cancer care cost, unaffordable to poor patients: experts

Increasing cost of radiation therapy is becoming a major challenge for oncologists to treat the growing number of cancer cases. This is because radiation therapy accounts for over 50 per cent of the total cost of treatment. The high cost is attributed to the expensive chemotherapy drugs. Though the cost varies, in general it is one third. There are very expensive chemotherapy drugs, as much as 10 to 20 times costlier than the radiotherapy cost.

The cost of radio therapy treatment is directly proportionate to the investment made by the oncology cancer centres. With the utilization of basic equipment, radiation therapy is around Rs 45,000 at private hospitals and Rs 20,000 at government hospitals. If advanced equipment like Intensity Modulated Radio Therapy (IMRT) and Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) are utilized then the costs will to increase to anywhere between Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh. The cost is also dependent on the number of scans required for the patient, Dr BS Ajai Kumar, chairman, HealthCare Global Enterprises Limited told Pharmabiz.

With the cancer cases estimated at 2 million annually, a major portion constitutes an unaffordable population. Therefore financial support to the poor and middle class patients from the government would help to increase the treatment to such cases, said Dr Kumara Swamy, consultant Radiation Oncologist, Healthcare Global Enterprises.

There is a need for the government to allocate a portion of funds from the existing healthcare budgets of Rs 16,534 crore in 2008-2009 for oncology care, especially for those who are undergoing radiation.

Despite the high cost of radiation therapy, there has been substantial investment to expand oncology facilities across the country. This includes the case with HCG, Apollo Bangalore and Global Hospitals which have installed advanced radiation instruments and surgical equipment.

From 3D Conformal RadioTherapy to Intensity Modulated Radio Therapy (IMRT) and IGRT (Image Guided Radiotherapy), such combinations of apparatus are prohibitively expensive in the west but are made possible here because of the Indian ingenuity of keeping the costs low and working more, stated Dr Swamy.

Currently, Siemens, Varion, Elekta and Accuray are the four major players who provide cutting edge radiotherapy equipments. In addition, there are several companies in the niche areas like Brain Labs, CMS and Prowess which provide the 'planning systems' that help radiation oncologists in calculating and evaluating the best delivery of radiation treatment. The 'inverse planning' approach addresses the area to be treated, administration of specific dosage regimes for particular parts of the body and indicates the regions to be avoided. These are tabulated and fed into the computer which automatically it takes over and directs the treatment to the radiotherapy machine.

In the area of expertise, fortunately, India has a team of qualified radiation oncologists and physicists, added Dr Swamy.

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