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The Belgian citizen has little knowledge of radiation oncology

Press release - Brussels, April 17th -2015

A recent study revealed that Belgian citizens would benefit from better information on radiotherapy. Offering this type of information is one of the goals of the BRAVO organisation.

The general perception of radiotherapy by the Belgian population is quite neutral, or even mildly negative, but anyhow not very accurate and sometimes even wrong: for instance, one person out of 5 (21.40%) does not know how to dissociate radiotherapy from radiology. One citizen in 3 (35.8%) indicates not knowing the difference. See the graph below.

Radiotherapy also has a negative connotation when speaking about security (38% would classify radiotherapy as ‘rather unsafe’ and 28% as ‘safe’.) One also seems to confuse side effects with problems often induced by other treatments (64% of respondents). Radiotherapy is however recognized by a majority as the least painful and most innovative treatment. Belgian citizens who were questioned indicate that most of their knowledge concerning oncological treatments is derived from contacts with relatives.

These are some of the conclusions from a detailed analysis by Main-xion Mak. He analysed the perception of radiotherapy by the Belgian citizens at the request of BRAVO, in the framework of a study by the KULeuven University.  BRAVO is the “Belgian Radiation Oncology Awareness and Visibility Organization”. In order to perform the study a questionnaire was presented in person to a representative cohort of Belgian citizens between March and June 2014. [1].

This study by Main-xion Mak offers new insights since data on this topic were not available until now. Only the Yougov study (UK, 2011) did discuss the generally rather negative radiotherapy perception in the UK.  

The detailed data of this Belgian study will be available soon on the BRAVO website, and will be presented during the ESTRO meeting in Barcelona between April 24th and 28th. (ESTRO is the European Society for Radiotherapy & Oncology).

Steven Cuypers, co-president of BRAVO: “This study confronts us with the striking gap between the perception and the reality. It is now proven that further efforts for educating the Belgian population are required, beyond what has been done until now. We need to inform people about radiotherapy.” This happens to be the main objective of BRAVO. This organization brings together radiation oncology professionals, and the medical industry. One of the main results of the efforts of BRAVO efforts is a website that provides in three languages information directed to 3 separate target audiences: patients, healthcare professionals and policy makers.


Fortunately several treatment strategies are available for fighting cancer. For an increasing number of cases, the survival rates keep improving. Belgians have one of the highest survival rates of cancer in Europe [2]. But the total number of patients requiring therapy keeps increasing.  Prof. Dr. Gert De Meerleer, co-president of BRAVO: “The study confirms that it is very likely that anyone of us will, sooner or later, be confronted with cancer, be it directly or via a relative or friend (this was not the case for just 15% of respondents). In that sense it is really important to know about treatment options to be able to inform and assist these people in the best possible way. There is still quite some work to do in this field, since this study shows that the perception of the respondents concerning the efficacy of radiotherapy for curing cancer is not adequate. Radiotherapy is really a treatment technique with a high potential for cure.”

[1] The study was based on face to face street interviews by the ‘Nelson Group”. 750 persons were interviewed, and this sample is considered representative for the Belgian population concerning socio-demographic groups and gender.

[2] “Belgen bij beste overlevers van kankers in Europa” (Belgians among the best cancer survivors in Europe) De Tijd and The Lancet, December 2013.

Supplement : overview of the most important results

  • Awareness: 60% of respondents spontaneously cite radiotherapy as a possible cancer treatment, and 17.4% do so as a first answer. This compares to 90.3% of respondents citing chemotherapy (68.9% as a first answer). Finally 40.1% cites surgery (8,3% as a first answer);
  • Comprehension: 21% of respondents are not capable of distinguishing between radiology and radiotherapy, and 35,8 % admits not knowing the difference.
  • Effectiveness: Only 13% of respondents think that radiotherapy offers the best treatment effectiveness, compared to 40% for surgery and 26% for chemotherapy.
  • Safety : The perception of radiotherapy safety is mixed, going from neutral (37,4% of responses) to rather bad (25,9%) ; Radiotherapy is considered as safe as chemotherapy but less safe than surgery;
  • Pain: Radiotherapy is considered the least painful treatment: only 11% of respondents consider it the most painful option. (60,3% refers to chemotherapy as most painful, and  20,6% to surgery);
  • Short term tolerance : There seems to be a major confusion, since 64.4% of respondents attributes certain side effects to radiotherapy that are generally much more common after other cancer treatments (hair loss, fatigue, nauseous feeling, ..); Hair loss is cited more often than skin burns’ (cited by 12% of respondents). 36% of respondents is not capable of citing a potential side effect;
  • Innovation : Radiotherapy is considered the most innovative treatment for cancer by 34.9% of respondents;
  • Information : Respondents have obtained their knowledge on radiotherapy through communication with relatives and friends (59%), followed by information obtained by TV (37%), written press (24%), the internet (22%), a hospital (22%) or a school (18%).


BRAVO refers to Belgian Radiation Oncology Awareness and Visibility Organization.

Radiation-oncology is a medical specialty mainly used to treat cancer. It’s important to differentiate radiotherapy from radiology, nuclear medicine, nuclear energy and chemotherapy.

The Belgian radiotherapy departments (physicians, medical physicists, nursing and technical staff) closely collaborate with the medical industry. These companies provide all the tools required to offer high quality treatments. Both the medical and the industry partners within BRAVO decided to bring radiotherapy to the attention of the general public, as a safe and modern cancer fighting technique.

The BRAVO website offers information concerning radiotherapy, for patients, healthcare workers or policy makers. The website is an ongoing effort and will continue to evolve.

17 April 2015

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