Image-guided radiation boosts cancer treatment

Filed under: Health Care |

Rocky Mountain Cancer Center is the first community cancer center in Colorado to take advantage of technology that allows greater accuracy in treating prostate, liver, head, neck and lung cancers with radiation.

Known as image guided radiation therapy, or IGRT, the technology can be used to treat tumors that require precise radiation targeting. Doctors can enhance the accuracy of the radiation dose, resulting in a decrease of the side effects caused by irradiation of normal body tissues.

“IGRT gives us the opportunity to treat patients’ cancer with amazing accuracy because we can confidently target a smaller area for treatment,” said Dr. Chad Levitt, radiation oncologist. “Previously, we had to target larger areas because the inevitable movement of body organs, such as the prostate. By allowing us to target a smaller treatment area, IGRT minimizes the potential harm of radiation to surrounding healthy tissue and organs. In some cases, this improved tolerability allows us to deliver more radiation to the tumor itself, in hopes of improving cure rates.”

During the process, gold markers are implanted into the cancerous tumor to act as a reference system for the radiation treatment. The markers do not move. Before the radiation begins, the markers are localized with x-ray images, allowing the doctor to accurately locate the tumor and detect any movement of the tumor, Levitt said.

“IGRT represents a significant step forward in treating cancerous tumors with radiation therapy,” Levitt said. “With IRGT, we know exactly where the bull’s eye (tumor) is every single treatment, thus allowing us to pinpoint the radiation for maximum effectiveness.”

IGRT is often used with intensity modulated radiation therapy. IMRT is used in treating cancerous tumors by increasing the dosages delivered to the tumor while protecting the surrounding tissues and organs.

Life, health insurers’ profits triple in 2005

Life and health insurers’ investment profits more than tripled in the first three quarters of 2005, skyrocketing 224 percent to $1.8 billion, according to Weiss Ratings Inc., an independent provider of ratings and analyses of financial service companies, mutual funds and stocks.

Metropolitan Life Insurance led the group with a capital gain of $543.8 million. Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, Metropolitan Tower Life Insurance, First Colony Life Insurance and John Hancock rounded out the top five.

As a result of substantial investment gains, insurers’ profits climbed $2.3 billion, or 8.9 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. Union Fidelity reported the largest year-over-year increases, with an increase of $1.85 billion. Prudential, Money, Teachers and Travelers also scored in the top five highest profits.

“Insurers have enjoyed an extended period of growth by nearly all measures, due in part to an industry trend toward asset accumulation and away from traditional products as baby boomers enter their prime earning years and put more money into variable annuities and similar insurance investment vehicles,” said Melissa Gannon, vice president of Weiss Ratings.

The value of insurers’ separate account assets jumped 14.2 percent to $1.4 trillion in the third quarter of 2005, compared to $1.2 trillion for the same period in 2004. The increase represents continued interest by consumers to invest in variable life and annuity products in anticipation of improved equity markets and rising interest rates. Prudential reported the highest year-over-year increase in separate accounts, claiming a $33.9 billion.

Many years of solid performance have buoyed life and health insurers’ financial strength, as evidenced by the distribution of Weiss financial safety rating. Among the 905 life and health insurers rated by the company, 42.7 percent received a favorable safety rating, the highest percentage in the company’s history. Upgrades outpaced downgrades by a factor of 6.6 to 1, the company said.

Of the 838 insurers reviewed by Weiss, 125 companies were upgraded, while only 19 received lower grades.

The safety ratings are based on an analysis of a company’s risk-adjusted capital, five-year historical profitability, quality of investments, liquidity and stability.

JCAHO enhances publicly available performance info

The Board of Commissioners of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations took a series of actions during a meeting this month designed to enhance transparency of quality-related information from hospitals and health care organizations.

The board also framed a series of rationales and data element justifications as the basis for initiating a dialogue with the hospital field around potential joint commission acquisition of case-identified data that would protect patient privacy.

The board of commissioners approved a new public policy initiative that will address the development of a national strategy for the gathering, preparation and dissemination of performance data. The initiative addresses the issues surrounding the creation of a national public utility for performance measurement data, the potential design of a national data system that could meet multiple stakeholder needs and how best to protect patient confidentiality in such a system.

The board also created performance data and information reports that will be provided to hospitals, allowing them to improve clinical performance and care-related internal operations.

The public has access to the performance data of JCAHO accredited institutions through its Web site at www.qualitycheck.org.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.