Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

Selling Proton Therapy

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

eventeen years after direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising was instituted in the US, 70 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are on at least one prescription drug. Topping the adult pill category is–surprise!–antidepressants which are used by an astounding one in four women between 50 and 64. Topping the child pill category is–another surprise!–ADHD meds, though kids increasingly take blood pressure, diabetes and insomnia meds too. (Babies are actually given GERD medicine for spitting up.) Twenty percent of the population is now on five or more prescription medications. Ka-ching.

DTC advertising has done two pernicious things. It has created a nation of hypochondriacs with depression, bipolar disorder, GERD, Restless Legs, insomnia, seasonal allergies and assorted pain, mood and “risk” conditions and it has reduced doctors to order takers and gate keepers. Thanks to TV drug ads, patients tell doctors what is wrong with them and what pill they need, coupon in hand. Drug company-funded web sites even give patients talking points to use when they see the doctor, lest they don’t ring up a sale.

Selling prescription drugs like soap makes a mockery of a medical school education. It has created the need to train doctors in “refusal” skills said Richard Pinckney, MD, Professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine at a 2010 Chicago conference attended by medical boards, accrediting agencies and representatives from the AMA, FDA, VA and 23 medical centers. Now the same technique is at play with
radiation therapy.

For at least two years, direct-to-consumer radiation ads have aggressively promoted “proton therapy” to patients, an expensive new kind of radiation treatment for people with prostate and other cancer that is said to limit radiation exposure to surrounding organs. While proton therapy sounds like a “scientific marvel,” writes biotech reporter Luke Timmerman, the evidence of its value is limited so far to brain
tumors called medulloblastomas and not other cancers for which it is marketed. There is also a “real problem” with the business model, writes Timmerman. Because a proton center costs $152 million to build and operate, it “creates an incentive for doctors within a network to steer their patients to proton therapy,” including cancer patients who may not be appropriate and who may “benefit just as much from an existing, lower-cost alternative.”

How much more expensive is proton therapy? The average Medicare reimbursement for proton treatment for prostate cancer is about $32,428 versus $18,575 for standard radiation. Other estimates place proton therapy at $50,000 for prostate cancer, twice as much as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) which is also employed to limit radiation exposure to surrounding organs.

Is it proton therapy better? Not according to comparative effectiveness studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Patients on the cheaper IMRT therapy had a 34 percent lower risk of gastrointestinal side effects compared to proton therapy. (IMRT was also associated with  22 percent fewer hip fractures and a 19 percent reduced need for further cancer treatment than traditional radiation though there was a greater risk of erectile dysfunction.)

Will “Ask Your Doctor” radiation ads sell proton therapy the way they have Lipitor, Nexium, Claritin and Prozac? If patients can be experts on diseases and medication, why can’t they be experts on oncology? Or will the medical establishment realize if proton therapy were really superior, ads and patients would not be required to sell it–and pay for the machine.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

July 07, 2015
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row