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Proton Therapy: ‘Really Cool,’ Pricey, Worth It?

September 20, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Pediatric Radiology
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For an extremely expensive new technology that, so far at least, has not been demonstrated to offer any improvement over conventional radiation treatments for cancer, proton therapy sure is hot.

Consider the following news items:

Proponents tout proton therapy because protons can be focused more precisely than the X-rays used in conventional radiation therapy for cancer. That means less damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Such precision can be especially important in treating children because it should reduce damage to their still-developing bodies and the risk of radiation-induced cancer later in life.

But no large, randomized clinical trials have shown that proton therapy produces better results than conventional therapy. None have indicated that it doesn’t, either; the research simply hasn’t been completed.

So why the proton rush? Florida Trend looked at the $125 million University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute, which opened in Jacksonville in 2006:

The average charge for therapy at the Proton Therapy Institute is $160,000, though the average payment is $70,000, with Medicare reimbursing $56,000. That’s about double the cost of traditional radiation. In 2009, the institute generated revenue of $46.8 million, with profit of $8.3 million.

The magazine asked Kenneth Goodman, PhD, director of the University of Miami Bioethics Program, about proton therapy. He said America’s health-care system offers “really cool gadgets. It’s not clear our health is any better for it.”

Florida Trend also pointed out that this year, Massachusetts General Hospital launched a study of 700 prostate cancer patients to determine whether proton therapy is more effective than conventional radiation therapy. So maybe by the middle of the decade we’ll have an idea of just how cool this particular gadget really is.

Related seminar: ALARA—CT (As Low As Reasonably Achievable)

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One Response to “Proton Therapy: ‘Really Cool,’ Pricey, Worth It?”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Choosing Wisely Nixes Radiology Treatments on September 24th, 2013 at 11:28 am

    […] the proton-therapy boom and recent evidence that it may offer some clinical benefits, the recommendation against its use […]