New UF Proton Therapy Institute newsletter

New UF Proton Therapy Institute newsletter points out biased data and faulty assumptions in UNC study.

The first issue of a newsletter from the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute includes a critique of a medical journal article by University of North Carolina researchers that claimed prostate cancer patients experience more troubling side effects after Proton Therapy than patients treated with intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

“We question the value of printing such a poorly conducted and ill-informed research study,” wrote Stuart Klein, executive director at the institute. Klein said the authors’ conclusions defy those reached by multiple published studies that found only 2 percent of prostate cancer patients experienced side effects after proton treatments.

Klein highlighted several defects in the paper, Intensity-modulated radiation therapy, proton therapy, or conformal radiation therapy and morbidity and disease control in localized prostate cancer, published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Of the 12,000 Medicare patient records studied by the authors, only 700 patients, or 6 percent, had undergone Proton Therapy, Klein noted, and all of those patients were treated at one proton center. Published studies cited by Klein involved more than 1,000 patients and several different proton centers.

“Utilizing a single institution’s data will bias the conclusions,” Klein said. “Valid research studies utilize data from multiple institutions to remove this single institution bias. The authors failed to identify this significant fact, and their conclusions did not adequately take this bias into account.”

Klein’s critique also refuted the authors’ assumption that if colonoscopies were conducted sometime after proton therapy, they were automatically triggered by treatment side effects. In fact, Klein said, colonoscopies were a routine part of some treatment protocols at the single proton facility cited in the UNC study and “had nothing to do with toxicity. The authors did not mention this in the study.”

Cancer patients and their families, Klein added, need to take it upon themselves to learn more about the disease, and the pros and cons of available treatment options.

“We likewise encourage patients to take the time and effort to question the data from all sources,” Klein said. “We find it very troubling that an article based on Medicare billing data, and containing faulty conclusions, has generated so much confusion among some patients and the physicians who are trying to advise them.”

The new UF Proton Therapy Institute newsletter, will keep patients, prospective patients and health care practitioners informed about patient experiences, events, clinical trials and newly published medical journal articles written by UF physicians.