Proton Beam Therapy Just as Risky As Other Prostate Treatments: Study

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By: Martha Garcia | Published: December 28th, 2012

A prostate cancer radiation treatment known as Proton radiotherapy (PRT) is gaining more popularity as a radical new option that is believed to have “fewer side effects,” but the findings of a new study suggest it may carry just as many risks as a more traditional and much cheaper radiation methods.

According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found there was little advantage to PRT when compared with intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), despite the increased costs associated with the newer treatment.

PRT, also known as proton beam therapy, involves the use of a radiation beam for treatment of prostate cancer. PRT concentrates radiation directly to a tumor, supposedly allowing patients to avoid severe side effects. However, very little has been done to study the effects of PRT therapy in a clinical setting.

IMRT is another cancer treatment that is used for prostate cancer. It is more commonly used and is a much less expensive radiation method. However, IMRT exposes some healthy tissue to radiation during the treatment, along with the cancer ridden tissue. Many people believe this causes more side effects, potentially causing additional cancers.

The retrospective study of looked at data on Medicare beneficiaries aged 66 years and older from 2008 and 2009. Nearly 28,000 men were studied during the their treatment. Only 2 percent of the population, 553 men, received PRT during the study. The remaining 98% received IMRT.

According to study’s authors, patients who received PRT were younger, healthier, and more affluent than the men who received IMRT treatment.

Researchers found a significant reduction in genitourinary toxicity after 6 months of treatment, nearly 6 percent compared to nearly 10 percent with IMRT patients. However, the difference in side effects decreased 12 months after treatment where one in five men experience side effects regardless of what type of treatment they underwent.

Genitourinary toxicity often results in side effects such as incontinence, burning sensation while urinating or difficulty getting an erection.

PRT has a much costlier price tag than IMRT, nearly doubling the $18,000 dollar cost to $32,000. There are currently only 10 proton beam centers in the United States, with eight more currently being constructed.

Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer in men in the U.S. More than 28,000 American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. The slow growth rate of the tumors provides men who detect and treat prostate cancer early with a good prognosis.

Other common treatments for prostate cancer are chemotherapy, hormone therapy surgery and frequent surveillance. Standard chemotherapy is often sought as a treatment with side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and constipation.

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