UVA Today: “A Gold-Standard Cancer Treatment Is In Decline, And Money May Be Why”

Dr. Timothy Showalter, a radiation oncologist, led the study on why a potentially life-saving treatment for cervical cancer was being less utilized. (Photo by Josh Barney, UVA Health System)

“The evidence is clear: Cervical cancer is best treated with brachytherapy, a form of radiation therapy. Yet the use of this potentially life-saving treatment has been declining, and a new study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine may explain why.”

Why wouldn’t a urologist or radiation oncologist tell a cancer patient about all of their options including brachytherapy? Urologists / hospital systems face declining revenues in offering brachytherapy, and it is not because of clinical outcomes. A study conducted by UVA researchers, recently covered by UVA Today reporter Josh Barney, has determined that offering brachytherapy for locally advanced cervical cancer actually ends up costing hospitals money despite its effectiveness. Sadly this is not the case for only cervical cancer patients, but also men battling prostate cancer.

From the article:  “After accounting for the costs and time involved, the researchers found that Medicare reimburses four times more per minute required for a less effective alternative than it does for brachytherapy. Ultimately, providing brachytherapy results in a net loss for the providing health care facility, the researchers determined. This can leave hospitals – particularly smaller hospitals that don’t do a lot of brachytherapy – in the lurch.”

Dr. Timothy Showalter, a radiation oncologist at UVA Cancer Center, expresses grave concern about the declining use of brachytherapy: “It’s disturbing because we have this great treatment option that’s an absolute requirement of curative therapy, and it’s been available for decades, but the rates of actually using it are dropping,” Showalter said. “It’s like if you had an effective drug and people stopped using it.”

You can read the full article by UVA Today author, Josh Barney, here.

The researchers have published their findings in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology. The paper’s authors are Kristine Bauer-Nilsen, Colin Hill, Daniel M. Trifiletti, Bruce Libby, Donna H. Lash, Melody Lain, Deborah Christodoulou, Constance Hodge and Showalter.