Originally published March 27 2013
Money-hungry cancer centers red-flagged for refusing patients and skewing survival rates
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Being diagnosed with cancer is perhaps the most emotionally traumatic thing that can happen to someone. What's more, it is a diagnosis that leads to a feeling of desperation as patients search in vain for any and all available treatment options, with many, if not most, even hoping for a miracle.
The for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America say the company is in the business - literally - of providing those miracles, boasting of higher-than-average survival rates for patients who have been diagnosed with even the most serious forms of cancer, according to their internal statistics.
On the surface, the CTCA certainly seems to provide the kind of hope that cancer patients of all types are searching for. But a closer examination of the CTCA reveals that many of these patients have searched, and continue to search, in vain.
According to a recent investigative report from Reuters, CTCA not only turns away scores of patients - including some that had begun treatment at one of the centers but did not respond favorably to that treatment - but the company also cooks its books to artificially inflate survival rates.
Skewed statistics hiding dubious results
CTCA is not unique in turning away patients. A lot of doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers in the United States decline to treat people who can't pay, or have inadequate insurance, among other reasons. What sets CTCA apart is that rejecting certain patients and, even more, culling some of its patients from its survival data lets the company tout in ads and post on its website patient outcomes that look dramatically better than they would if the company treated all comers.
And these rosy stats misleadingly attract a lot of patients.
The company says in its website that the percentage of patients who are alive after six months, one year and 18 months and more regularly outpaces survival rates nationally. For example, CTCA says 60 percent of its small-cell lung cancer patients are alive at the six-month point, compared to 38 percent nationally. Further, CTCA says 64 percent of its prostate cancer patients are still alive after three years, again compared to just 38 percent nationally.
But those claims are misleading, say nine experts in cancer and medical stats who were asked by Reuters to review the company's survival numbers and statistical methodology.
After examining the figures, all of the experts said CTCA's patients are different from patients the company compares them to, and in a way that skews the survival data. For one, the company has relatively few elderly patients, though cancer is known to strike older adults more frequently. Also, almost no patients are uninsured or covered by Medicaid - "patients who tend to die sooner if they develop cancer and who are comparatively numerous in national statistics," Reuters said.
Nothing new here
A former CTCA oncology information specialist in Tulsa, Okla., Carolyn Holmes, told the newswire service she and others tried often to turn away people who "were the wrong demographic" because they were far less likely to have an insurance policy the company preferred. She told Reuters she would try to "let those people down easy."
What's also notable is the fact that CTCA includes in its outcomes data only patients "who received treatment at CTCA for the duration of their illness" - or patients who have the means to travel to a CTCA facility from the outset and who did not receive treatment locally first.
"That means excluding, for example, those who have exhausted treatment options closer to home and arrive at a CTCA facility with advanced disease," the report said.
Biostatistician Donald Berry of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said calculating survival outcomes from what amounts to a rigged patient list "is a huge bias and gives an enormous advantage to CTCA."
To be sure, this isn't CTCA's first experience cooking its books. The company got in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in 1996 when regulators accused it of not being able to support its survival claims, Reuters reported.
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