Mayo CEO defends use of proton beam therapy

  • Article by: JOHN NOSEWORTHY
  • Updated: January 5, 2012 - 2:39 PM

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An op-ed article from the Jan. 3 New York Times questions the motives and consequences of Mayo Clinic's decision to open two proton beam therapy facilities for the advanced treatment of certain cancers.

In a piece titled "It Costs More, But Is It Worth More?" ("How Mayo drives up the cost of health care," on, the authors suggest that proton beam therapy is of unproven value and that the programs were initiated to generate revenue.

Mayo Clinic takes serious issue with the authors' use of Mayo Clinic and its programs in this manner. As a not-for-profit institution, we are motivated by the best interests of our patients, not "profit" or competitiveness. With the facility costs, start-up expenses and the extensive training required to offer this therapy, we do not expect to break even, much less earn a "profit," on our proton therapy program for years. On the contrary, we chose to make this investment to ensure that our patients have access to proven, effective, safe treatment for serious illnesses.

Mayo Clinic radiation oncologists spent six years researching the modern history of proton beam therapy, in the process reviewing hundreds of manuscripts that reported the treatment results of thousands of patients worldwide. The evidence shows proton beam therapy improves the effectiveness of cancer treatment while sparing surrounding key organs and tissue. The medical effectiveness of proton therapy and its benefit to our patients was the critical factor in our decision to establish these programs.

Mayo Clinic has a legacy of careful evaluation of medical advances. We are committed to ongoing evaluation of this technology within our practice, just as we do with all other programs. We will place all of our proton therapy patients in an approved registry in order to track outcomes. We will also enroll many of these patients in clinical trials designed to reduce the number of required radiation treatments, which could prove to be a tremendous gift to cancer patients and a significant cost savings.

Once our program is launched, Mayo Clinic will participate in a consortium of leading cancer centers that offer proton therapy, including Massachusetts General Hospital, Washington University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The group will develop and conduct phase III clinical trials comparing proton therapy to conventional therapy.

Mayo Clinic always does what's best for patients. We will use the proton beam only if it is the best treatment for the right patients. Our program will help to establish this therapy's appropriate role in medical practice. If there is no benefit to a particular proton therapy for a particular illness, we will discontinue its use, just as Mayo Clinic has for the past 150 years with other technologies and programs too numerous to list.

Proton therapy is one of several innovative treatments Mayo Clinic is studying to determine which patients could benefit most from its application, based on clinical evidence. Our mission and motivation, now and always, is to provide excellent, lower-cost care for our patients.


John Noseworthy is president & CEO of the Mayo Clinic.

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  • How Mayo drives up the cost of health care

    Tuesday January 3, 2012

    Mayo is part of a 'medical arms race' for proton beam machines, which could cost taxpayers billions of dollars for a treatment that may not be worth the price.

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