Radiographers, also known as Radiologic Technologists, Diagnostic Radiographers and Medical Radiation Technologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in the imaging of human anatomy (body structure) for the diagnosis and treatment of pathology (diseases).
With the rising cancer burden globally, there is need for timely diagnosis, efficient referral to specialist cancer teams, accurate and modern evidence-based treatments and effective follow up care to ensure the best possible prognosis and quality of life. Apart from laboratory diagnosis, radiologic diagnosis has successfully proven its worth in the efficient diagnosis of cancer patients and treatment monitoring.
Effective cancer management starts with prevention, cancer screening including health education and promotion and Radiographers are well placed to provide this service in the community setting through, for example, mobile breast screening units or a community liaison role, helping healthcare staff understand and manage the side effects experienced by radiotherapy patients after they have finished their course of treatment.
Diagnostic radiographers make a significant contribution to the early detection of cancer, carrying out a range of imaging procedures, for example, non-obstetric ultrasound to support the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, chest x-rays to support the diagnosis of lung cancer and MRI scans to support the diagnosis of brain cancer. They also play a principal role in cancer screening undertaking a range of procedures including reading screening mammograms and assessing screen-detected abnormalities using ultrasound and needle biopsy.
Therapeutic radiography (Radiotherapy) is an increasingly important tool in the treatment of patients diagnosed with cancer. Radiotherapy is extremely cost effective and is now a significant component of the treatment of 40% of patients who are cured of their cancer. Timely access to radiotherapy leads to improvements in cancer outcomes and survival rates, thus providing further cost benefits. New technologies are improving outcomes as well as reducing side effects and enabling patients to resume normal work and social activities sooner. Combining radiotherapy with chemotherapy improves results even further and in some centres, therapeutic radiographers have extended their roles to support the specific chemotherapy regimens as well as the delivery of radiotherapy.
Therapeutic radiographers constitute over 50% of the radiotherapy team, working alongside clinical oncologists, medical physicists, and engineers. Many are qualified non-medical prescribers and provide effective and efficient toxicity assessment and management of their patients, resulting in significant improvements to the quality of the patients’ experience.
The move to develop the role and competency of the therapeutic radiographer is seen as key to the effective and efficient delivery of national cancer strategies. This continuity of care across the cancer journey benefits individual patients and the service by reducing the number of hospital admissions and gaps in treatment and allowing clinical oncologists to focus their time and expertise elsewhere.
In summary, timely access to diagnostic procedures, referral to specialist cancer teams and access to accurate and modern cancer treatments lead to improvements in cancer outcomes and survival rates, providing widespread cost benefits. Diagnostic and therapeutic Radiographers play a vital and unique role in the delivery of diagnostic procedures and cancer treatment services as part of the patient care pathway.
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World Health Organization Facts Sheet (2018)
Vision for Radiotherapy 2014-2016 (bit.ly/1i6L2nl)
The Society & College of Radiographers (2016). The role of radiography workforce in the management and treatment of cancer patients [Online]. Available at: www.sor.org