Proton therapy hardly an industry in dire straits

Proton beam therapy is going through an interesting period right now.

In August, Indiana University announced that this December, its proton therapy center will close its doors--marking the first time a U.S. proton-beam therapy center will shut down since they started opening up about 10 years ago.

There are several reasons why Indiana University came to this decision: the cost of maintaining its aging cyclotron equipment; lower than expected patient numbers; competition from other proton therapy centers; and lower reimbursement rates from insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid, just to name a few.

The latter reason, in particular, is one that has caused concern throughout the proton therapy community; still, the decision of one of the nation's centers to close caught some observers by surprise.

"I never thought that in my lifetime that I would see a proton center close," Amitabh Chandra, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said in a interview with National Public Radio.

In trying to decide what to do about its proton therapy center, Indiana called for an independent review of the facility. The review committee's report concluded that it is "quite possible that we are on the verge of a 'proton bubble'" as these centers deal with various issues like reimbursement and small patient bases.

Still, there don't appear to be any more closures in sight, and in fact, the number of proton therapy centers actually continues to grow. For example, in the District of Columbia and the surrounding area, three centers now are under construction--one at Johns Hopkins Medicine's Sibley Memorial Hospital in D.C., another at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and a third at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

A new study, reported on in this issue of FierceMedicalImaging, also offers some good news for proton therapy providers. The study, out of the University of Texas MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, found that accelerated partial breast radiation with proton therapy costs about as much as most radiotherapy options, and is significantly less expensive than whole breast irradiation.

So, while the closure of one of the nation's proton therapy centers may be suggestive of the challenges facing the industry, the news certainly is not all bad. - Mike (@FierceHealthIT)