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Past, present, and future of radiotherapy for the benefit of patients


Radiotherapy has been driven by constant technological advances since the discovery of X-rays in 1895. Radiotherapy aims to sculpt the optimal isodose on the tumour volume while sparing normal tissues. The benefits are threefold: patient cure, organ preservation and cost-efficiency. The efficacy and tolerance of radiotherapy were demonstrated by randomized trials in many different types of cancer (including breast, prostate and rectum) with a high level of scientific evidence. Such achievements, of major importance for the quality of life of patients, have been fostered during the past decade by linear accelerators with computer-assisted technology. More recently, these developments were augmented by proton and particle beam radiotherapy, usually combined with surgery and medical treatment in a multidisciplinary and personalized strategy against cancer. This article reviews the timeline of 100 years of radiotherapy with a focus on breakthroughs in the physics of radiotherapy and technology during the past two decades, and the associated clinical benefits.

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Figure 1: Prostate cancer radiotherapy 1935–2010.


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The authors acknowledge Pascale Martino, Adrian Plesu, Bastien Chanoux, Vincent Corvasce, Jerome Mandrillon and Karen Benezery for their help in making figures.

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J. Thariat, J.-M. Hannoun-Levi and J.-P. Gérard researched the data for the article. J. Thariat and J.-P. Gérard discussed the article content and then wrote the manuscript with A. Sun Myint and T. Vuong. All authors edited the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Jean-Pierre Gérard.

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J. P. Gérard acts as a consultant for Ariane Medical Systems. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Thariat, J., Hannoun-Levi, JM., Sun Myint, A. et al. Past, present, and future of radiotherapy for the benefit of patients. Nat Rev Clin Oncol 10, 52–60 (2013).

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