WRAL Investigates

Prostate Cancer Center pits doctors against UNC

Posted September 27, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2010 7:12 p.m. EDT

WRAL Investigates

— Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among men and is the second-leading killer. Yet, a proposal to build a prostate cancer treatment center in Raleigh has pitted a small group of doctors against UNC Health Care, one of the state's largest health care providers.

Worried about the lack of education, screening and treatment, Khoudary and Cary Urology hatched a mission to reach under-served black men in eastern North Carolina. Along with free screenings and outreach, they proposed a Prostate Cancer Center, a one-stop shop for everything from diagnosis to treatment options to follow-up.

Khoudary said his efforts started after he opened an office in Sampson County.

“(I was) shocked. It seemed every other patient had prostate cancer,” he said.

Across North Carolina, one in four black men is diagnosed with prostate cancer – that’s 66 percent more likely than white men – and black men are three times more likely to die from it.

Herman Thomas, 69, is one of Khoudary's survivors. The former Shaw University vice chancellor wrote a faithful journal about his battle with prostate cancer. Unlike many black men, he was screened by his doctor and caught it early.

“If I had not been given a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) exam, it would have gone on and on, and I would have never known it,” Thomas said.

A key component of Khoudary’s and Cary Urology’s plan was putting the Prostate Cancer Center near WakeMed in southeast Raleigh, convenient to a large population of black men.

“Location matters, (and) access to care matters,” said Dr. James Smith, who leads the Minority Prostate Cancer Awareness Action Team, which backed the proposal.

But the road to the goal soon got rocky.

UNC Health Care started writing letters opposing the center, calling a single-organ cancer effort unnecessary. Then UNC filed a competing application for the state-required Certificate of Need.

One of the prizes of winning is the right operate a multimillion-dollar linear accelerator. It's a high-tech radiation treatment that can generate a lot of money for a medical practice.

Despite UNC's prominence, the state picked Khoudary's focus on minority care, but the fight wasn't over. UNC, which runs Rex Hospital, filed suit.

“There are powers here I can't control,” Khoudary said. “It's a battleground, and they want control.”

After a lengthy case in the Office of Administrative Hearings, a judge again ruled against UNC, saying the health system's primary focus was competition. Citing litigation, UNC declined to comment to WRAL News.

So far, the fight has delayed the prostate cancer center by about a year. Continued litigation could delay the effort by another 18 months or more.

“Do it in a cooperative and supportive manner and not in terms of competition. Health, for me, is not competition. Health is about living,” Thomas said.

“How many more people will have a negative consequence because of it? It's a health care thing. We're trying to help people,” Khoudary added.

The Department of Health and Human Services is now evaluating the Prostate Cancer Center.