Author: D Mulligan
After years of advocating for equal coverage in Colorado for men with prostate cancer, Denver CyberKnife has prevailed and CyberKnife treatment is now covered by Medicare. Cyberknife radiation treatment is performed over 5 days as compared to other treatments that take 40 days, and CyberKnife has fewer potential side effects.
Working through every possible channel from Congress to the courts, Dr. Gregg Dickerson, medical director at Denver CyberKnife, led the fight to give Colorado men the choice to consider all prostate cancer treatments from Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), Brachytherapy (radioactive seed therapy), or CyberKnife treatment and know that Medicare would pay.
In our state, 3,500 to 5,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, the majority of whom are of Medicare age. Many of these men are candidates for CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery treatment, also referred to as Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT). Previously, some of the men chose to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, travel out of state for treatment, consider more invasive treatment options such as surgery, or play the waiting game because Colorado was just one of a handful of states where the Medicare contractor had declined to cover CyberKnife treatment.
This is what the CyberKnife treatment means to one patient, It came down to a numbers and a lifestyle decision, said Jim Sullivan, a 69-year-old patient. I was given an estimate of 40 or more days of radiation treatment (with IMRT). Compare that to the five days of treatment needed with CyberKnife. Im an outdoorsman, and well, I didnt want cancer treatment to take me away from my hobbies and my life.
Dr. Dickerson led the efforts to encourage Trailblazer, the Medicare contractor for Colorado, to reconsider SBRT or CyberKnife as a covered treatment option for prostate cancer, specifically in the region that covers Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. The Medicare coverage decision requires that patients undergoing CyberKnife treatment also enroll in a clinical registry that will continue to provide evidence about the effectiveness of the treatment for prostate cancer.
Currently, there are more than five years of published, comprehensive clinical data to show that SBRT/CyberKnife is an effective form of treatment for prostate cancer. Other prostate cancer treatment options had, at most, five years of data before being approved by Medicare. A review of all prostate cancer radiation treatment options by the government concluded that clinical evidence suggests that all treatments are equally effective, and not one treatment was better than another. For men who qualify for CyberKnife treatment, the procedure is shorter in duration, less costly and has many fewer side effects than other treatment options.
Since the January ruling, Denver CyberKnife has gone from treating 3 to 5 prostate cancer patients per month to treating more than 20 per month.
At the time Sullivan said sign me up he knew Medicare wouldnt reimburse the cost for treatment. The staff at Denver CyberKnife was going to fight for me, so I didnt let that get me down. I moved forward with CyberKnife treatment and quickly moved on with my life.
Thirty months after CyberKnife treatment, Sully is cancer free and enjoying life to the fullest. I continue to enjoy zero side effects after CyberKnife treatment, and if I had to do it over, I would continue to choose Denver CyberKnife.
Jack Thomas, an 84-year-old Denver CyberKnife patient, feels the same way and believes men in Colorado should have equal rights. The thought of how are we going to pay for this began to worry me more than the cancer itself, said Thomas. Luckily, Denver CyberKnife was there to fight for us.
Denver CyberKnife challenged the previous Medicare ruling in more than 40 cases for patients during the past two years, and in each instance the ruling had been overturned, and Medicare has paid for the CyberKnife treatments.
Denver CyberKnife has treated more than 150 prostate patients, making it one of the most experienced prostate SBRT centers in the country. Clinical data shows that the non-surgical CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery is as effective, less invasive and less expensive than more traditional forms of treatment such as surgery or traditional radiation therapy.