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Urology journal publishes papers with questions about robots and proton beam therapy

Probably the two most frequent subjects on this blog regarding the proliferation of new medical technologies are proton beam radiation therapy and robotic surgery.  Since this blog focuses on media messages about health care interventions, we generally focus on the marketing claims made for these technologies.

The latest edition of the journal Current Urology Reports has published papers on both topics.

A paper, “Proton Beam Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer – Is the Hype (and the Cost) Justified?,” concludes:

“Proton beam therapy has entered the collective consciousness of the American public, and intense hype now surrounds its utilization in prostate cancer, creating a potential low signal-to-noise ratio. Clearly, this is an elegant technology with appealing properties and data supporting its safety and efficacy that spans decades. However, medicine can no longer blindly afford expensive therapies without clearly proven benefits. As such, we need to complement the existing evidence and have the resolve to perform rigorous and randomized comparative assessments of such advanced technologies to further guide clinical decision making and policy, while continuing to promote innovation.”

That’s accompanied by a paper, “Does Robotic Prostatectomy Meet Its Promise in the Management of Prostate Cancer?” While reflecting on some evidence suggesting that robotic prostatectomy results in less blood loss, fewer transfusions, a lower risk of perioperative death, and faster physical recovery and return to work, the authors conclude:

“However, whether these advantages justify the significantly higher costs of robotic technology remains to be seen. Most notably, the robot is a tool, and tools are only as good as the surgeons who wield them.”

Meantime, The Associated Press today published its story on an investigation that was announced earlier, “FDA Investigating Potential Problems with Popular Surgical Robot.”

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