Radiation Therapy Volume Stays Steady Despite COVID-19 but Capital Equipment Spending is Being Impacted in 2020

Radiation therapy patient volume has remained relatively stable throughout 2020, bucking a trend seen in diagnostic radiology, in which the COVID-19 pandemic has led to major drops in imaging exam volume, according to IMV’s new report on radiation oncology.

For 2020, an estimated 1,062,600 cancer patients will be treated with radiation therapy in the United States, according to IMV’s newly published 2020 Radiation Therapy Market Summary Report. Since 2006, the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer patients has been relatively stable, with the estimated number of patient cases increasing at an average annual rate of 1%.

While radiation therapy is a relatively stable market, it appears that the number of treatment visits per patient has declined since 2010 from a high of 22.5 visits per patient to 15.7 in 2020. This may signify that the number of fractions (the series of treatment sessions that make up a patient’s course of treatment) has declined over time. With improvements in technology and clinical protocols, patients are not required to have as many sessions to treat their cancer using radiation therapy.

IMV’s 2020 Radiation Therapy Market Summary Report is based on interviews with respondents from over 430 radiation therapy departments/facilities who participated in IMV’s nationwide survey in February-August 2020, and the results are projected to the universe of 2,280 hospitals and non-hospitals that perform radiation therapy in the United States.

Based on the responses of the survey participants, the 2020 patient cases treated by the sites may have experienced ups and downs this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the net impact on patient volume by the end of the year may be relatively minimal. Those who participated in the study in July-August 2020 were asked whether their department has been fully operational or not due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and two thirds indicated they remained fully operational, while one third said they have remained open, with some reduced capacity. Some commented that the net impact is being made up as the year has progressed:

  • “We started telemed on certain follow-up patients. That’s the only thing that differed because of COVID.”
  • “The only alteration was phone follow up. Patient volume stayed normal.”
  • “Our census went down a little bit, but now we’re back to normal.”
  • “The hospital reduced some of the elective surgeries that are usually performed here. However, the radiation oncology department was not affected.”
  • “We pushed some follow-up patients to a later date who were not urgent. However, our treatment and new patients were still being seen on schedule.”
  • “For six weeks we put off everything that wasn’t emergent. We are back now and busier than ever (due to the backlog).”

However, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the 2020 capital budgets for radiation therapy equipment, with investments being shifted to 2021-2022. A comparison of the 2020 capital budgets planned a year ago in IMV’s 2019 survey compared to this year’s 2020 survey indicates the following changes:

Impact of COVID-19 on 2020 radiation oncology capital equipment budgets

Impact on 2020 Budgets 2019 Survey 2020 Survey
Percent of sites planning zero dollars for 2020 capital purchases 32% 39%
Percent of sites planning 2020 capital budgets of $1 million or more 26% 18%

Radiation therapy sites reporting 2020 capital budgets of $1 million or more declined from 26% in last year’s 2019 survey to 18% of the sites in this year’s 2020 survey. Meanwhile, there is an increased likelihood that the percentage of sites having zero dollars budgeted for their 2020 capital budgets increased from 32% of the sites as of the 2019 survey to 39% as of this survey.

The good news is that going forward, a higher 25% of the sites are planning to have capital budgets of $1 million or more in 2021 and 2022, compared to the current 18% of 2020 budgets.

IMV’s 2020 Radiation Therapy Market Summary Report provides a department-wide view of the key radiation therapy technologies used in treating cancer patients, including external beam therapy equipment, image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT), brachytherapy equipment, treatment planning systems, simulators (X-ray, CT, PET, and MRI), and oncology information systems.


Lorna Young is senior director of imaging insights at IMV Medical Information Division, part of Science and Medicine Group.

IMV’s 2020 Radiation Therapy Market Summary Report monitors trends over the past decade in the top cancer types treated with radiation, patient volume, installed equipment, market share, and technology adoption rates, as well as future plans for acquiring and using such technologies.  Over 25 manufacturers providing hardware and software solutions for radiation therapy are covered in this report.

The data source for this report is IMV’s 2020/21 Radiation Therapy Census Database, which provides comprehensive profiles of hospital and non-hospital sites performing radiation therapy in the United States. This database can be separately licensed by qualified subscribers.

For information about purchasing IMV’s 2020 Radiation Therapy Market Summary Report or IMV’s 2020/21 Radiation Therapy Census Database, call 703-783-1751 to speak with a representative.