National survey of radiotherapy fractionation practice in 2003

M. V. Williams (Lead Author), N. D. James, E. T. Summers, A. Barrett, D. V. Ash, On behalf of the Audit Sub-Committee, Faculty of Clinical Oncology, Royal College of Radiologists, London, UK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

64 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: To document UK practice in radiotherapy fractionation.

Methods: All radiotherapy centres in the UK participated in a 1-week audit from 29 September 2003. Fractionation data were collected for all patients starting external beam radiotherapy. This included 2498 patients who were prescribed 32 547 fractions.

Results: For the radical treatment of non-skin malignancy (n = 708), the prescribed dose ranged from a single fraction of 8 Gy for total-body irradiation to 75 Gy in 43 fractions for prostate cancer. Postoperative treatment for breast cancer was dominated by three regimens: 40 Gy in 15 fractions; 45 Gy in 20 fractions; and 50 Gy in 25 fractions. Palliative treatment was given in a single fraction to 393 patients (36%) with doses of up to 15 Gy. Three hundred and ninety patients (36%) received four to seven fractions delivering 20–25 Gy. Only 89 patients (8%) received more than 10 fractions with palliative intent but used 29% of such fractions. In the treatment of bone metastases, the most common prescriptions were 8–10 Gy in a single fraction and 20 Gy in five fractions.

Conclusion: UK radiotherapy practice has become more uniform and moved closer to practice in North America and Europe over the past 15 years. For radical radiotherapy, 54% of prescriptions were for a fraction size of 1.8–2.0 Gy but the distribution was bi-modal and 20% of patients were prescribed fraction sizes of 2.7–3.0 Gy. Evidence-based practice now supports hypo-fractionated palliative treatment favouring single fractions for bone metastases and one or two fractions for many patients with advanced lung cancer. Two fractions are advised for some patients with brain metastasis. If these guidelines had been applied uniformly, then the number of treatments prescribed for palliation could have fallen by 36% from 5197 to 3313. This would have represented a 6% reduction in the overall radiotherapy workload. Not all patients are suitable for such hypo-fractionated treatments, but this is an area in which resource use can be improved. In the postoperative management of breast cancer, a change in practice to use 15 fractions uniformly would reduce overall radiotherapy workload by 4%. By contrast, a change to 25 fractions would increase overall workload by 7%.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Oncology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Cite this