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Volume 6, Number 1, 2001

Setting the pace for strengthening radiotherapy in Europe: the ESTRO esquire project

Heeren G, Barrett A, Baumann M, Dutreix A, Huyskens D, Lartgau E, Mijnheer B, Venselaar J, Svensson H.


In most medical specialties the success rate and outcome of treatment coincide and can be measured immediately. This is not the case for radiotherapy where debilitating of even lethal side effects may show up as late as 18 years after treatment. To determine the outcome or therapeutic ratio of radiotherapy, it is therefore necessary to link tumour control closely to the actuarial long-term disease free survival of the patient.

The therapeutic window for radiotherapy is narrow. In walking the tightrope between cure and complications, radiotherapy can put the odds at its side. As a precautionary measure, strict quality assurance measures including the monitoring of side effects need to be put in place. Recent studies have demonstrated that every gain in the accuracy of the beam output and treatment delivery is translated into important gains in the uncomplicated cure probability, thus sparing the lives of thousands of patients every year. QA will become all the more mandatory now that new technological developments allow much more precision in the delivery of the intended dose to the intended target volume, thus making an escalation of the dose and hence the improvement of the cancer cure rata possible.

Europe has only half the number of treatment units of America and Japan. However, it has also its own strengths. These are exactly in the field of quality assurance and education. ESTRO has become a world leader in the provision of teaching in the field of radiotherapy. The ESTRO teaching programme commands the admiration and even the envy of the International radiation oncology community. We need to capitalise on this achievement and keep it at the cutting edge of scientific and technological progress to offset, through the development of the human potential and optima) use of capital-intensive infrastructural resources, at least partially the shortage in capital investment and the past shortfall in spending for research.

For this reason ESTRO is embarking on an ambitious new project called ESQUIRE (Education, Science and Quality Assurance In Radiotherapy in Europe) which it hopes to realise with the support of EU funding. The aim of this project is to increase the confidence level of clinicians for embracing optimised RT treatment regimes by making sure they can be introduced without an increase in severe side effects. Actions proposed for this purpose: monitoring the accuracy of the dose (Talk 1:E~UAL) and the side effects (Task 2: REACT), by stepping up education for the implementation of new technology (Task 3: EDRO,) by developing quality assurance procedures for optimised RT (Task 5: QUASIMODO) and brachytherapy (Task 6: BRAPHY~S), and establishing a procedure-based surveillance of quality in treatment and research (Task 4:EPOQART).

Signature: Rep Pract Oncol Radiother, 2001; 6(1) : 35-36

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