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Investigating 'misleading' reports from Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Thursday - 3/7/2013, 4:00pm  ET

Investigating CTCA and its patients' stories

Sharon Begley, Reuters senior U.S. Health and Sciences correspondent

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WASHINGTON - Some patients at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America are sharing their stories of heartbreak and mistreatment which provide a stark contrast to the center's positive marketing campaign.

The stories prompted Sharon Begley, Reuters senior U.S. Health and Sciences correspondent, to dive into the patients' claims in her report and see how the hospital system was performing in curing cancer.

Begley's team talked with patients, employees, former employees and officials, but mostly spent time with cancer experts and statisticians.

The group focused on Cancer Treatment Centers of America, or CTCA's, outcomes report. Visitors to the CTCA website can click on the specific cancer they are diagnosed with and see what percentage of patients are still alive.

Begley says in diving into the numbers, she found serious reporting problems. She explains how comparing the company's outcome numbers to the national database is like comparing apples and oranges.

"The problem is, the national database includes people who were never treated for their cancer because they were diagnosed too late. It includes people who were treated by all types of doctors, not just oncologists ... They were treated either at cancer centers or not. Some of the people in the national database had many more serious medical conditions," Begley said on WTOP Thursday.

Specifically when researching breast cancer outcomes on the company's site, there is an omission that is important for patients to be aware of, Begley says.

"The company doesn't show you that after three and a half years, their outcomes are worse than the national average. All they show you is that they are doing better. Which we thought was not exactly full and open reporting," she says.

In the Reuters article, the company defends its practices.

Spokeswoman Pamela Browner White tells Reuters CTCA's survival data are in "no way misleading, nor do they deviate from best practices in statistical collection and analysis."

The Reuters' investigation was sparked by the story of one family in western Pennsylvania. Keith Hilborn says doctors at CTCA's Philadelphia hospital promised his wife Vicky that she'd be on her feet in no time after a rare cancer diagnosis.

"Suddenly they didn't want her. [Keith Hilborn] called and called again, and called the next day and kept calling, the person ... kept saying, 'The doctor is busy. You know, we cant take everybody. You might just have to accept that she's not going to make it,'" Begley says, recalling her conversation with Keith Hilborn.

The hospital system responds to that claim in the Reuters article.

White says the company does not discuss individual cases. She tells Reuters the company has an "insurance-screening process and established criteria" and trains its specialists to direct callers to other resources when CTCA is unable to offer treatment."

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