How Proton Beams Are a Metaphor for Our Broken Health Care System


Via Austin Frakt, here’s a lovely little chart from a Brookings report that helps explain why health care costs in the United States are so stubbornly hard to control. It shows the growth in proton beam facilities, which Kaiser Health News describes as an “arms race” between hospitals. These facilities are the size of a football field and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

Which might be OK if PRT were truly an advance in treating cancer. Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence that it is, even though it costs far more than old-school IMRT radiotherapy. Here’s the conclusion from a recent study of prostate cancer cases:

Although PRT is substantially more costly than IMRT, there was no difference in toxicity in a comprehensive cohort of Medicare beneficiaries with prostate cancer at 12 months post-treatment.

In other words, the supposed advantage of PRT—that it targets cancers more precisely and has fewer toxic side effects—doesn’t seem to be true. It might be better in certain very specialized cases, but not for garden variety prostate cancer.

And yet, new facilities are being constructed at a breakneck pace. Why? Because if they build them, patients will come. “They’re simply done to generate profits,” says health care advisor Ezekiel Emanuel. Roger that.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.