News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Knight Foundation

Don Drumm Studios

Genie of Fairview Door Company


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Health and Medicine




Exploradio: High-tech physics meets hands-on medicine
Radiation therapy is an effective and expensive form of cancer treatment, but incentives could be lagging behind advances in technology
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
The new Vero radiotherapy platform targets tumors with a 360 degree array of high energy x-rays. It incorporates real-time imaging that tracks tumor movement in the body. Newer technologies can shorten treatment times, but reimbursments still favor extended sessions.
Courtesy of BrainLab
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

Two Northeast Ohio hospitals will be among the first in the country to offer the latest developments in radiation therapy. 

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair looks at how radiation technology is advancing -- along with its costs.

Exploradio: Radiation therapy

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:21)


It’s where high-tech physics meets hands-on medicine. Radiotherapy and radiosurgery use high energy beams or particles to knock out tumors in hard to reach places inside the body.

Half of all cancer patients in the U.S. undergo some form of radiation treatment, and there’s a lot of pressure for health-care systems to have the latest gadgets.

This fall, Summa’s Cancer Center will unveil its new $6 million Vero-brand radiotherapy machine. It's the first clinic to install the system, one of only four in the country.

Radiation oncologist Charles Kunos says the combined imaging and radiosurgery system can target tumors that move as the person breathes or their heart pumps.

Zeroing in on tumors
Kunos says the Vero platform has cameras "that are able to track tumors in real time and literally move the radiation beam so that they’re tracking just tumor targets and not other areas.”

Kunos says having the latest and greatest technology is not only good for patients, it’s good for a hospital’s bottom line.

He says multiple treatments run in the tens of thousands of dollars each, usually paid for by Medicare or private insurance.

Kunos says radiation therapy "is often looked at as a way of a way of providing the revenues to keep hospital systems operational at a reasonable cost.”

More on that later…

Newer systems improve precision 
Part of what makes the new machines better is they’re more precise than previous models, and can deliver higher doses of radiation with less damage to surrounding tissue, as long as the patient holds still.

At Akron General, medical physicist Jeremy Donaghue can focus 200 streams of high-energy gamma rays onto a tiny tumor inside a patient’s head with the Gamma Knife Perfexion, the latest version of the system.

But a frame bolted onto a patient’s skull is needed to hold them motionless inside the machine. Once the patient is in the right position, Donaghue says, "we lock it -- and nothing’s moving.”

Donaghue says sub-millimeter precision is important because, “when you’re poking around someone’s brain you don’t want to miss.”

Most radiation treatments like this start at around $20,000, and continue for weeks, often with 30 or more sessions.

And for many hospitals, it’s one of only a few profit centers.


Payment systems lag behind technology advancements 
Medicare, for example, paid $1.5 billion for radiation treatments in 2012, with an average of $360,000 per provider.  

Robert Timmerman, a pioneer in radiotherapy at the University of Texas Southwestern, asks whether the current model of paying providers for each treatment session could change as technology advances.

Timmerman wonders whether physicians should get paid and facilities get paid based on the number of treatments they give, "or should they get paid on the course of therapy?”

The newer, higher powered machines don’t necessarily require as many sessions. But, he says, insurers haven’t caught up.

Timmerman recommends a move to a single lump-sum system. He advocates "a per-course-of-therapy reimbursement so as to not disincentivize giving more abbreviated treatment courses, which the patients definitely prefer.”


Research needed to master cutting edge radiation technology
The problem, says Mitchell Machtay, head of radiation oncology at University Hospitals in Cleveland, is that doctors don’t always know the best way to use new technology.  

Machtay says research is needed to know how many fractions, or individual treatments are necessary with the new machines.  He ponders, "Is it really 30 to 40 treatments?  Is it five? Is it something in between?”

UH is taking radiation therapy to the next level. Its planned $30 million Proton beam therapy unit is the first in Ohio.  The advanced technology also carries an advanced price tag.

"It’s about double a conventional course of radiation therapy," he says.

Machtay says this latest weapon delivers precision cancer-killing beams that especially benefit younger patients.

So, he says, “in those cases I think that extra $20,000 is worth it.”

Even with the high cost of radiation therapy, Machtay says it’s cheaper than many of the new anti-cancer drugs being developed.

University Hospitals new proton therapy unit will open at the end of next year.



 

(Click image for larger view.)

Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Support for Exploradio
provided by:








Stories with Recent Comments

Local Ebola concerns cause officials to pay more attention to West Africa
I have a better idea, let's secure our borders and spend those billions of dollars on our own first.

HUD and Cuyahoga Land Bank extend a housing deal for another year
Need to sale lot, and would like to know how to contact someone to see if they may be interested in the property that sat between two lots. If you can give me...

Akron Beacon Journal details abuse claims against televangelist Angley
In the early 90's I went forth for pray. And the man was anointed by the hand of God. Just a fact I will never forget

Lawmaker questions why a million voters didn't get absentee applications
He's a damn lie! I vote n all elections. I missed 1. Haven't gotten my absentee ballot and their making it hard to get one.

Thirsty Dog Brewery warns it might have to leave Akron
Why is it the city's responsibility to find this guy a location? There are a hundred realestate companies that could help him.

Kent State sends home three after contact with second Ebola-stricken nurse
Why weren't all health workers who were around Duncan quaranteened for 21 days and tested for Ebola? That's a no-brainer. Why was Vinson allowed to travel right...

New book says Willoughby Coal is haunted...and that's good for business
Would love to see a series of books that would just thrill me. I cannot wait to visit some of the locations. And revisit some of the locations I have already vi...

Cleveland Indians to continue with 'dynamic pricing'
pricing is too high for a family as well as people like me who are on a fixed income. Bleacher seats are cheaper but concessions are rediculous.

Kasich talks about faith, drugs and education -- but never FitzGerald
The idea that you can learn more by talking to a 90 year old person than from a history book is just another example of how the GOP hates education and knowledg...

Third-grade charter school students fail state testing
A partisan anti-charter group came out with analysis that ODE says is based on incorrect data. So why is this a story? It doesn't seem to rise to WKSU's typic...

Copyright © 2014 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University