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Study looks into declining use of cervical cancer treatment

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — A study at the University of Virginia School of Medicine looked into why the use of a particular treatment that is “best” for treating cervical cancer has been declining.

The treatment is called brachytherapy, and it’s a form of radiation therapy that delivers large doses of treatment in a targeted manner to combat the tumor.

According to a release, the researchers found that offering brachytherapy for locally advanced cervical cancer cases ends of costing hospitals money.

They accounted for the costs and time involved in the treatment and found that Medicare reimburses four times more per minute required for a less effective alternative than it does for brachytherapy.

That’s what leads to a net loss for the health care facility providing the treatment, which researchers say can leave smaller hospitals “in a lurch.”

“Studies have time and time again shown that brachytherapy is the most important part of cervical cancer treatment, because it is essential to eradicating the tumor,” said Timothy Showalter, MD, a radiation oncologist at the UVA Cancer Center. “A decline in brachytherapy utilization is associated with a higher rate of mortality in cervical cancer, so there’s a direct relationship.”

The release says the problem stems partly from the amount of physician time the therapy requires, because it takes at least 80 percent more personnel time to administer brachytherapy than it does to use the increasingly popular alternative called external-beam radiation.

With the Medicare reimbursement system the way it is, the external-beam radiation is profitable for hospitals while the brachytherapy is not.

The researchers say it costs hospitals more than twice as much to provide brachytherapy as it does for the external-beam radiation treatment.

“Brachytherapy requires a lot of physician effort and expertise and reimburses poorly for that effort,” said Showalter. “I can certainly imagine how the comparatively poor reimbursement rates compared to external-beam radiation could contribute in some environments to not establishing a service for brachytherapy or just not committing physician time to it.”

In the end, the hospitals that see a high volume of patients, like UVA, are best equipped to provide brachytherapy and to absorb the resource commitment that comes with it.

Showalter is concerned about the declining use of brachytherapy and the costs associated with the treatment that can create barriers for smaller health centers and prevent them from offering the treatment.

“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,” he said. “It’s like if you had an effective drug and people stopped using it.”

The study’s findings have been published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by: Newsplex

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