Radiation Oncology in 2050: What to Expect

The future of radiation oncology is set to be a much more automated and robotic experience, with fewer activities such as delineation, treatment planning, and supervision of radiation therapy delivery being performed by physicians and physicists. According to the American Council of Radiology, the number of radiation oncologists is projected to increase, but not enough to meet the expected demand for radiation therapy. To ensure that radiation therapy remains widely accessible with acceptable wait times for all cancer patients, addressing this projected mismatch is essential. When undergoing radiation therapy, patients will have regular weekly health checks with their radiation oncologist and nurse.

During these visits, progress will be tracked, any side effects will be assessed, treatments for those side effects will be recommended (such as medications), and any concerns will be addressed. Once a diagnosis has been made, patients will likely talk to their primary care doctor and several cancer specialists, such as a surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist, to discuss their treatment options. Depending on the type of radiation therapy chosen, radioactive sources may be temporarily placed inside the body and removed after the correct amount of radiation has been delivered. This information is essential to define policy priorities in the field of radiation oncology to ensure sufficient access to radiation therapy for future cancer patients.

Proton therapy beams have physical characteristics that allow clinicians to more effectively reduce the dose of radiation directed to nearby healthy tissue. Radiation oncologists will also work with dental professionals to prevent radiation from damaging healthy areas of the mouth, care for teeth, gums, and other tissues in the mouth, and may recommend preventive dental treatment before radiation. With IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy), it is possible to further limit the amount of radiation that healthy tissue receives near the tumor. During the simulation process, the radiation oncologist and radiation therapist will place patients in the simulation machine in the exact position they will be in during the actual treatment.

This allows for a large dose of radiation to be delivered directly to cancer cells as sources are placed in close proximity to the tumor. The equipment must also be regularly tested by taking accurate measurements of the radiation beam and performing other safety tests.