Hospitals Seduced by 'Nuclear Arms Race' vs. Cancer

But does prestigious strategy help patients?
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2007 2:29 PM CST
Workmen build the first phase of a tunnel that will test neutrinos under Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Particle accelerators were once only found in physics laboratories,...   (KRT Photos)
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(Newser) – More and more hospitals are using nuclear proton accelerators in the fight against cancer, with mixed results, reports the New York Times. Some experts say the massive devices, formerly only found in physics labs, are a vital next-generation tool. Others doubt their effectiveness and worry that hospitals are getting caught up in a kind of anti-cancer "arms race," with price tags running up to $100 million a pop for the 222-ton accelerators.

The machines, which speed up protons and fire them into tumors, are said to be much more accurate than conventional radiation. They add greatly to a hospital's prestige and profits, causing some concern that institutions are rushing to buy them for the wrong reasons. "I’m fascinated and horrified by the way it’s developing,” said a radiation oncologist. “This is the dark side of American medicine.”