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Is high-tech cancer therapy too costly?


3 Star

Is high-tech cancer therapy too costly?

Our Review Summary

The purported value of proton beam therapy is that it can accurately target deep-seated cancers without damaging surrounding tissues. For this reason it is an attractive idea for certain rare and serious tumors such as tumors of the brain or eye. However, it is increasingly being used to treat more common cancers, such as prostate and lung cancer. Moreover, proton beam therapy is extraordinarily costly because the equipment involved requires huge investments from hospitals. Given the current economic climate in healthcare, the acceleration of this technology has raised serious questions about its cost-effectiveness and issues around access to care, given that it is currently only available in academic medical centers.

This story attempts to describe these controversies. It adequately describes the availability, novelty and costs of the therapy. However, it does not adequately describe in detail the lack of evidence to support its use, and, by focusing on brain tumors rather than the more common and less deadly cancers that are the primary motivation for building these centers, the story verges on disease mongering. Furthermore, the story could have done more to describe the potential harms of treatment and quantified the benefits.

Overall, though, CBS should be applauded for tackling this important health policy issue.  It’s a topic that we need to see explored more often and in more depth in network TV news and in all media.  


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story does a good job of describing the problem of the costs of proton beam therapy.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not quantify the benefits of treatment.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention any harms of proton beam therapy.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Although the story does indicate that there is no good evidence that proton therapy is better than standard radiation, the story could have done a lot more to elaborate on the limitations of the available evidence.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not exaggerate the seriousness of brain tumors, the primary indication for proton beam therapy at the moment. However, the story is misleading by focusing on brain tumors and not on the indications for which the centers are being built, which are much more common and far less deadly.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story mentions other radiation treatments, such as intensity-modulator radiation therapy, as the alternative to proton beam therapy.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story describes the limited availability of proton beam therapy.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story adequately describes the novelty of proton beam therapy.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Because the story quotes multiple experts, the reader can assume the story does not rely on a press release as the sole source of information.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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