Housed in facilities the size of football fields

Proton beam radiation therapy has been touted as the next big thing in cancer care. The idea, enthusiasts say, is that doctors can deliver higher, more focused doses of radiation than they can in traditional therapy, with a lower risk of side effects. The massive machines, housed in facilities the size of football fields, have been sprouting up across the country for a decade.

There are already 14 proton therapy centers in the U.S., and another dozen facilities are under construction, even though each can cost $200 million to build.

But Indiana University last month announced that it plans to close down its facility in Bloomington, as reported by Modern Healthcare.

"I never thought that in my lifetime that I would see a proton center close," says Amitabh Chandra, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, who studies the cost of American medical care.

He's surprised because until now, industry growth has been entirely in the other direction, even though there's little evidence that proton therapy is better than standard radiation for all but a few very rare cancers.

"But we do know it is substantially more expensive and substantially more lucrative for physicians and providers to use this technology," Chandra says.

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