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About Radiation Therapy

  • Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients will receive radiation therapy during their illness.
  • Medicare and Medicaid are the predominant sources of payment for radiation oncology.
  • In 2008, there were 4,563 licensed radiation oncologists in the United States. Of these physicians, 3,418 were male and 1,145 were female.
  • The number of radiation oncologists in the U.S. has been growing steadily. There were 1,169 radiation oncologists in 1975, 2,272 in 1985 and 3,630 in 1995.
  • In 2008, 2,617 radiation oncologists identified themselves as white, 817 Asian, 195 Hispanic and 132 black.
  • In 2008, the states with the fewest radiation oncologists are Alaska (5), Wyoming (6), Vermont (10) and New Hampshire (11).
  • In 2008, the states with the most radiation oncologists are California (524), New York (364), Florida (313) and Texas (294).
  • In 2004, nearly one million patients were treated with radiation therapy.
  • Sixty percent of the patients treated in 2004, or 574,930 individuals, had not previously received radiation therapy.
  • In 2004, patients made about 23.4 million radiation therapy treatment visits to 2,010 hospitals and freestanding radiation therapy centers.
  • Three cancers – breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer – make up more than half (56 percent) of all patients receiving radiation therapy.
  • For most cancer types treated with radiation therapy, at least 75 percent of the patients are treated with the intent to cure the cancer, rather than control the growth or relieve symptoms like pain. For lung and brain cancers, that number is somewhat lower, with 59 percent of lung cancer patients and 50 percent of brain cancer patients being treated with the goal of curing the cancer.
  • In 2004, 88 percent of patients treated with radiation therapy received external beam treatments from a linear accelerator.
  • An average linear accelerator is used for 4,500 to 6,500 treatments per year. • The average patient receiving external beam radiation therapy receives 29 treatments.
  • In 2004, an estimated 81,580 patients received brachytherapy (seed implant) treatments.
  • In 2004, 11 percent of patients receiving radiation were treated with more than one type of radiation therapy.
  • In 2004, radiation therapy centers in the U.S. employed an estimated 29,970 people full time, including 3,900 radiation oncologists; 8,900 radiation therapists; 3,400 nurses; 2,600 radiation physicists; 2,500 dosimetrists; 5,300 clerical employees; 2,400 administrative staff and 900 other full-time employees, such as block cutters, tumor registrars and social workers.
  • The average radiation oncologist sees between 200 and 300 patients annually.
  • In 2004, linear accelerators comprised 88 percent of treatment courses. More specialized radiation treatments such as Gamma Knife and brachytherapy make up the remaining 12 percent.

Sources: Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S., 2010 Edition, 2004 IMV Medical Information Division, 2003 SROA Benchmarking Survey
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