International Day of Medical Physics 2022
On 7th November 2022, the birth anniversary of Marie Salomea Skłodowska–Curie, the IAEA will join the global community of Medical Physicists to celebrate the International Day of Medical Physics (IDMP) with a thematic focus” Medical Physics for sustainable health care”.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Its treatment is a complex process requiring a diverse set of services and has a tremendous financial burden. Timely diagnosis and treatment are essential in the management of cancer but unfortunately, access to radiotherapy and diagnosis is limited or non-existent in many countries. According to DIRAC the world’s comprehensive database maintained at the IAEA, on the radiotherapy infrastructure, in sub-Saharan Africa more than 20 countries have no access to radiotherapy, and there is a large disparity within the existing infrastructure. In high-income countries, one radiotherapy unit is available for every 250,000 people, while in many poor countries one machine serves more than 2.5 million people.
The quality and safety of imaging and treatment is paramount for the desirable outcome. The enormous economic impact of misdiagnosis, toxicity management, premature mortality leading to loss of productive life years highlights the critical importance of quality and safety in the management of cancer to achieve sustainable development.
Medical Physicists play a key role in ensuring quality and safety of patients diagnosed and treated for cancer using radiation. Together with other health professionals, medical physicists make key contribution towards sustainable healthcare that includes:
- Safe implementation of advanced technologies and treatment techniques: The medical physicist is a member of the multidisciplinary team involved in diagnosing and treating patients and contributes to ensuring a high standard of quality of service. The primary responsibility of Medical Physicists includes Installation, design, technical specification, acceptance, commissioning and quality assurance of imaging and radiotherapy. For example, recent clinical trials have shown that delivering higher doses over a shorter period is as effective as spreading the treatment over several weeks (hypo-fractionated regimens). This has the advantages of saving time on the machines, thereby increasing access to radiotherapy and saving billions of dollars but requires well qualified personnel particularly Medical Physicists to perform or supervise the calculations and measurements necessary to ensure correct dose delivery.
- Training and education on the safe and optimal use of imaging and radiotherapy technologies: Global shortage of skilled professionals, especially in Low and Low- and Middle-Income countries (LMIC) is a major concern. Efficient training mechanisms are needed to tackle this issue. The IAEA supports medical physics education and provides training resources through Human Health Campus - E-learning. Medical Physicists also play a crucial role in training other healthcare professionals on radiation protection and safety.
- Fostering research and development, collaborations, and partnerships with other stakeholders as part of a cancer management team: Medical physicists perform research and development of new equipment, methods, procedures, and technologies for improving diagnostic and therapeutic clinical care. They evaluate new technologies and investigate the adoption of new procedures, assisting in the training of clinical staff for their implementation. They support technical aspects of clinical research and often have a leading role in the medical research team. With rapidly evolving technology, there is a greater need to assess and generate evidence to form practice guidelines that are better suited for patients. Collaborations further strengthen the capacity for conducting not only basic research and clinical trials to gather evidence but also to pool data in the era of big data and artificial intelligence, to provide cost effective diagnosis and treatments.
Role of IAEA: Factors such as availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality are fundamental to obtain the highest attainable standard of health. IAEA has supported more than 100 LMICs in gaining access to radiotherapy for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The IAEA’s new initiative “Rays of Hope”, which focuses on LMICs, prioritising a limited number of high-impact, cost-effective and sustainable interventions in line with national needs and commitments.
Medical Physicists are key professionals in cancer management, as the quality and safety are directly correlated with better treatment outcomes, at all levels –prevention, diagnosis, treatment, outcome assessment, radiation protection and safety, thus contributing to sustainable healthcare with a final goal of improving health and well-being.