NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 8, 2004

A highly touted technique that uses radioactive seeds to clear clogged arteries, called brachytherapy, offers no long-term benefits and can also be dangerous, according to a new study.

"Brachytherapy is doomed," says lead author Martin Leon of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who five years ago led the study of about 250 patients that led to government approval of Gamma One, one of three devices that were designed to deliver radiation to the coronary arteries.

  • Doctors resorted to radiation as a way of keeping arteries from closing up after they had been reamed out with angioplasty and propped open with a mesh cylinder called a stent. Stents irritate the vessel wall, prompting the body to try to repair itself.
  • Researchers initially showed that radiation halted this process, prompting cardiologists to champion the procedure, which added about $3,000 to the cost of angioplasty.

The new study involved 52 patients from Leon's original study.

  • Researchers found that 38 percent of radiation patients suffered life-threatening heart episodes within five years, compared with 33 percent who did not receive radiation.
  • Nearly 8 percent of patients who had the radiation treatment developed blood clots where the seeds were used, compared with a fraction of a percent among patients who underwent placebo therapy.
  • Some 53 percent of patients who had radiation needed to have their arteries reopened, compared with 38 percent of other patients.

Brachytherapy will likely be abandoned, according to Leon, in favor of new drug-coated stents that limit re-narrowing of arteries and can be used in a broader range of patients.

Source: Steve Sternberg, "Study Debunks Treatment for Clogged Arteries," USA Today, October 1, 2004.


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