Photon and Proton Radiation Therapy Utilization in a Population of More Than 100 Million Commercially Insured Patients

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2017 Dec 1;99(5):1078-1082. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2017.07.042. Epub 2017 Aug 2.


Purpose: To characterize the changes in the use of radiation therapy (RT), specifically proton beam radiation therapy (PBRT), among adult and pediatric patients over a 11-year period in a very large population of insured patients.

Methods and materials: We conducted a retrospective analysis of the OptumLabs Data Warehouse claims database of more than 100 million insured US enrollees. Descriptive analyses were undertaken to evaluate the characteristics of patients receiving RT from 2002 to 2012.

Results: There were 474,533 patients treated with RT from 2002 to 2012. The percentage of patients treated with 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy, 2-dimensional RT/brachytherapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), and PBRT was 34.5%, 63.4%, 2.1%, 0.0%, and 0.1% and 40.4%, 36.0%, 21.9%, 1.1%, and 0.6% in 2002 and 2012, respectively. The greatest increase in utilization was of IMRT for prostate cancer, growing from 3.5% to 64.0%. For non-prostate cancer adults, IMRT use grew from 1.7% to 16.4%. For children, PBRT utilization increased from 0.3% to 9.7%. For prostate cancer patients, PBRT increased from 0.0% to 2.6%. For all patients, advanced technology (SBRT and PBRT) use was very low at <2%, versus 22% for IMRT.

Conclusions: This is the largest and most geographically diverse description of RT utilization. Proton beam RT utilization remains very low and has had little impact on overall RT utilization compared with IMRT. The largest shift has occurred in IMRT for prostate cancer. Our findings indicate that overall utilization of proton therapy has been low and that its use has likely had little impact on national expenditures on cancer care in the current environment.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Brachytherapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insurance Claim Review / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance Coverage / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Photons / therapeutic use*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Proton Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Radiotherapy, Conformal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology