KentuckyOne Health turns down ethics panel’s request to remove or change cancer treatment banner advertisement

A Louisville cancer center features a giant banner that says: “FIGHT CANCER WITH 5 or FEWER TREATMENTS.” The treatment, called CyberKnife and performed at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, is a procedure that directs large doses of radiation accurately to tumors, but it only works for small, isolated tumors, Andrew Wolfson reports for The Courier-Journal.

Dr. Anthony Zietman, associate director of the Harvard Radiation Oncology residence program at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, agreed the banner is accurate but said it is misleading, falsely implying CyberKnife can cure cancer. “For the right person, it is a great treatment, but the banner implies it is for everyone,” he told Wolfson, adding that fewer than 20 percent of cancer patients at his hospital are eligible for stereostatic radiosurgery treatment.

The University of Louisville Hospital‘s ethics committee voted unanimously on May 20 to request that KentuckyOne Health remove the banner or change it to give more context. “It is false and misleading advertising,” said Dr. Larry Florman, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who sits on the committee, which includes doctors, nurses and clergy. “It’s almost like a scam.”

The committee said in an email to KentuckyOne that cancer patients receiving traditional therapy were asking why their treatment included more than five sessions and why they couldn’t receive CyberKnife treatments instead. KentuckyOne spokesman David McArthur said after talking with the chairman of the U of L Department of Radiation Oncology and examining clinical results, “We decided that keeping the banner in place is appropriate.”

McArthur also noted that CyberKnife can fight cancer after just five or fewer treatments and that in almost three years, “all patients treated with it at the cancer center have received one to five treatments,” Wolfson writes. “More than half were treated for metastatic cancer—cancer that had spread.” McArthur added, “In the spirit of collaboration, we are looking for additional ways to ensure potential patients have the appropriate information to understand if CyberKnife is the right treatment for them.”

Accuray is the Sunnyvale, Calif., company that makes CyberKnife. The company says the therapy is non-invasive and painless. In 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the system for use in any organ, including the prostate, lung, brain, spine, liver, pancreas and kidney.

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