The Navigating Cancer Care in the Workplace Forum took place yesterday at the Employer Healthcare & Benefits Congress in Orlando. The event was hosted in partnership with Provision Healthcare and gave employers the chance to discuss cancer treatment in the workplace.
The Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality estimated that the direct medical costs for cancer were $88.7 billion in 2011, and have only continued to increase. This figure does not take into account the countless hours employees are on sick leave for treatment nor the quality of life they have afterwards which is invaluable.
In their session, Provision Healthcare brought a wide array of speaker from all sides of the issue including cancer survivors whose life was improved from these treatments to the doctors saving lives and advancing research.
The session began with gold medalist figure skater Scott Hamilton, who shared his story of overcoming cancer. During his fight with cancer, he underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. He described his mindset at the time as “You become a champion to do whatever you can to battle this weakness.”
His diagnosis and treatment led him to create the Scott Hamilton CARES foundation to help patients overcome their fear and Chemocare.com to help them understand how chemotherapy works. He works as an advocate for Proton Therapy, which he sees as the future of cancer care. “It treats the cancer and preserves the patient.”
Following this was Dr. Marcio Fagundes, who explained how proton therapy works. Dr. Fagundes is a student of Dr. Herman Suit, who brought proton therapy to prominence in the 1970s and worked off of the axiom “There is no advantage whatsoever to irradiating uninvolved tissue.”
Proton therapy is a radiation treatment similar to traditional therapies, but instead of using x-rays that travel in a straight line through the patient, they use protons. These charged particles allow oncologists to control how deep inside the body the energy is released, greatly reducing the amount of unrelated tissue exposed.
Proton therapy treated its first patient as far back 1954, but has seen amazing growth in the last 10 years. A new advancement is Pencil Beam Scanning, enabling oncologists to treat cancers of various sizes and shapes like large hip bone tumors or sarcomas with a minimal amount of radiation surrounding the site and none on the opposite side of the body where the beam was delivered. Reducing the amount of radiation reduces the side-effects the patient experiences, greatly improving their quality of life. As Dr. Fagundes said this therapy “can change everything in terms of quality of life.”
One such person whose life was drastically improved by proton therapy was Don Denton, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. His doctor recommended he have a prostatectomy, but it would have left him permanently impotent and incontinent all with a chance of relapse and a 35 percent chance to be dead in 5 years. All these effects, and Denton’s doctor still called it “the gold standard” of treatment. “My doctor wanted me in diapers and to eliminate my love life.”
He knew that he would never accept a treatment like this, so he began researching alternatives and after five weeks he found proton therapy. To Denton, it seemed too good to be true. “It answered all of my concerns.” After a battle with his insurance company to have them cover it, they refused because they called “experimental”, he was able to receive treatment. His sessions lasted minutes a day, with zero recovery time. He was even able to play golf and carry his own clubs.
With success stories like these where patients have minimal side-effects and an active lifestyle both during and after treatment, how is proton therapy not available everywhere? There are currently only 17 proton therapy centers in the United States, but Scott Hamilton is working to build more to make it available to everyone. More centers will also address the other major problem, the cost. Currently, proton therapy is more expensive than traditional radiation treatments, but creating more supply will help lower costs. You will start seeing more and more success stories stemming from proton therapy in the future, so be on the lookout for the cancer treatment of the future.