Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cancer Fight Goes Nuclear

By ANDREW POLLACK New York Times Published: December 26, 2007

Medical centers are rushing to turn nuclear particle accelerators, formerly used only for exotic physics research, into the latest weapons against cancer.The machines accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light and shoot them into tumors. Scientists say proton beams are more precise than the X-rays now typically used for radiation therapy, meaning fewer side effects from stray radiation and, possibly, a higher cure rate.“I’m fascinated and horrified by the way it’s developing,” said Anthony L. Zietman, a radiation oncologist at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, which operates a proton center. “This is the dark side of American medicine.”

Dr. Zietman said that while protons were vital in treating certain rare tumors, they were little better than the latest X-ray technology in dealing with prostate cancer, the common disease that many proton centers are counting on for business.

“You can scarcely tell the difference between them except in price,” he said. Medicare pays about $50,000 to treat prostate cancer with protons, almost twice as much as with X-rays.

Proponents say that more than 800,000 Americans — representing nearly two-thirds of new cancer cases — undergo radiation therapy each year. If only 250,000 of them could benefit from protons, they would fill more than 100 centers.Most people undergoing proton treatment are men with localized prostate cancer.

Proton therapy can help avoid the worst side-effects, like impotence, by exposing the bladder and rectum of a prostate patient to less radiation than X-rays. The stray radiation, though, from the newest form of X-rays, called intensity-modulated radiation therapy, is already low, diminishing any advantages from proton therapy.

X-rays, which are high-energy electromagnetic waves, pass through the body, depositing their energy all along the way, not just in the tumor. By contrast, protons — subatomic particles with a positive electrical charge — can be made to stop on the tumor and dump most of their payload there.Abridged =>>

Cancer a Very Lucrative Business?

With enough patients “it becomes a very lucrative system,” Mr. Phillips, a sales manager with Optivus Proton Therapy, said at the meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology held here in late October. Referring to one proton center that treats up to 175 patients a day, he added, “You can imagine what the return on investment is on that.”
I aplaud any advances in technology that might help to save lives and we have always spoken on the side advocating stem cell technology, however for the 2,400,000 Americans that will become new victims of cancer every year, becoming "Very Lucrative" business, isn't at all too comforting!