First author Dr. James Yu, an assistant professor of therapeutic radiology at Yale School of Medicine Cancer Center, said the standard external beam radiation therapy for prostate cancer is called intensity modulated radiation therapy.
Stereotactic body radiotherapy is a newer treatment that delivers a greater dose of radiation per treatment than IMRT.
As a result, patients receiving SBRT can complete an entire course of treatment in one to two weeks, compared to seven to nine weeks for IMRT.
The researchers compared IMRT to SBRT in a national sample of 4,005 Medicare patients age 66 and older receiving prostate cancer treatment. Participants received either SBRT or IMRT as a primary treatment for prostate cancer during 2008 to 2011.
Yu, senior author Dr. Cary Gross and their colleagues found the mean per-patient cost to Medicare for a course of SBRT was about $13,600, compared to $21,000 for IMRT.
The research team found after 24 months from the start of the treatment, there were increased side effects for SBRT compared to IMRT, due to urethral irritation, urinary incontinence and obstruction.
However, even when including the cost of treating complications, the overall medical costs due to SBRT were still lower than that of IMRT, the study said.
"While these data are by no means definitive, our findings emphasize the need to carefully assess the impact of new cancer treatment technologies in actual practice," said Gross.