Under-reported prostate cancer news: study questions proton beam therapy; NJ clash between evidence & politics

As far as I can tell, Marilynn Marchione of the AP is the only mainstream news media journalist to report that  “A study of Medicare records found that men treated with proton beams later had one-third more bowel problems, such as bleeding and blockages, than similar men given conventional radiation.”

She reports that results “were discussed Tuesday in a telephone news conference sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and two other cancer groups.”  And we know that other journalists have been reporting other news presumably based on that same tele-conference.  So why haven’t more reported on the proton beam question?

Marchione easily explains the significance of the findings:

Proton therapy is rapidly growing in use — Medicare covers it — even though no rigorous studies have tested whether it is as safe or effective as usual care.

It costs around $48,000 — at least twice as much as other prostate radiation treatments. Hospitals are rushing to build proton centers, and nine are operating now — sites include Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Fla., and Loma Linda, Calif., east of Los Angeles. Promoters often claim it is less likely to cause complications.

“There’s no clear evidence that proton therapy is better” for prostate cancer, and the new results suggest it may cause more complications, said Dr. Ronald Chen, a radiation specialist at theUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

And from New Jersey comes news of the latest clash between medical evidence and politics:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has signed legislation opposing an October 2011 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) draft recommendation that healthy men should no longer receive PSA tests as part of routine cancer screening.

Is this a first? A state passing a law against draft recommendations intended for primary care doctors?



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Comments (4)

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Louis Memoli

February 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Proton therapy systems can be either cyclotron based or synchrotron based. Cyclotron systems max at 230MeV whereas synchrotrons produce 250MeV beams. The best way to treat prostate is by using parallel opposed lateral beams that shoot through the hips. On larger men, the cyclotron does not have enough energy to penetrate from this orientation so they require the men to lay on their back, raise their legs and the beam enters through the perineum. The prostate gland lays against the bowl and precise beam placement is critical. Check the data. Compare those patients treated at Loma Linda or MD Anderson (both have synchrotrons) against the results from all the other sites (which are cyclotron based systems).

Gregory D. Pawelski

February 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

I guess for Christie, he’ll believe no amount of evidence seen for a reduction in mortality from prostate cancer with organized annual screening. He is the governor of New Jersey, not Missouri, right?