Proton therapy's future: Uncertainty lingers

The high cost of building and equipping a proton beam therapy facility--and whether the benefits in terms of patient outcomes is worth those costs--means the future of proton therapy remains uncertain. This was the message received by the attendees of the second annual conference of the National Association of Proton Therapy held earlier this month in Washington, D.C., according to an article in DOTmed News.

What's needed, said Bhadrasain Vikram, chief of the clinical radiation oncology branch of the National Cancer Institute, are results from randomized control trials that will identify those patients who will derive greater benefits from proton therapy and help determine the best direction the technology should be taking.

In the meantime, proton therapy stakeholders continue to deal with reimbursement challenges, since Medicare only reimburses the treatment for prostate cancer; many private insurers are wary of covering proton therapy.

Additionally, as pointed out by Christopher Pericak, a consultant at the Advisory Board Company, the technology will need to evolve as the healthcare system moves to a reimbursement system geared toward value and better patient outcomes.

One thing that proton therapy providers must do going forward is to move away from its reliance on the treatment of prostate cancer, according to John Frick, chairman of the board of the National Association for Proton Therapy. "The reliance on prostate cancer is a losing issue," Frick, chairman of the board of the National Association for Proton Therapy, told DOTmed News. "There are simply too many other options for prostate cancer treatment that cost a lot less."

Several other observers said that it appears that proton therapy centers are taking that advice to heart. For example, Nancy Mendenhall, medical director at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute, told DOTmed News that her facility saw the percentage of prostate cancer cases drop from 90 percent to 45 percent in 2013.

A 2012 KLAS study found that the high cost of proton beam therapy and limited data on its effectiveness as a cancer treatment had many providers hesitant to embrace the technology.

To learn more:
- read the article in DOTmed News

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