Only one in five Australians diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy even thought half of all cancer sufferers are likely to benefit from it.

According the national survey of oncology services, there is a gap between the patients who receive the potentially life-saving therapy and the total number of cancer sufferers it could help.

The survey conducted by the Associate Professor Bogda Koczwara from the Medical Oncology Group of Australia found just 19 per cent of all those diagnosed with cancer were receiving chemotherapy.

Dr Koczwara said, Of all the cancer diagnosed in Australia roughly half would derive a benefit from chemotherapy.

What we've seen in our survey is less than half of those patients receive chemotherapy, so rather than one in two patients, we're seeing about one in five patients.

The scarcity of services with a shortage of oncologist and problems related to access and awareness, had resulted in the chemotherapy utilization rate which was clearly too low according to Dr Koczwara.

She said some patients have been known to give up treatment because it was too hard to get to a medical oncologist, observed in rural patients who faced long and regular drives to a population centre.

Some eligible patients were not referred to the oncology services because either they, or their doctors, falsely believed chemotherapy didn't have much to offer them.

I don't think cost is a factor ... it may be a factor of access or awareness, or both, said Dr Koczwara.

It means there are patients in Australia today who could benefit from cancer treatment and they're not getting it.

Dr Koczwara said there could be a small number of patients who have received chemotherapy treatment outside of oncological services, but the figures are unknown.

She said Australia led the world in the establishment of a detailed and national cancer registry, though there was a paucity of data surrounding how the patients went on to be treated.

The survey also refers to a current shortage of up to 157 full-time oncologists as services struggle to meet the demand and this shortfall could worsen in the future, said Dr Koczwara.

We hope an expanded medical oncology workforce will be factored in the government's clinical training program, said Koczwara.