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On the Recent Cases of Over-Radiation in Cancer Treatment

Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment undergone by about 40% of cancer patients today. This form of therapy, also known as Radiotherapy, applies a particular type of energy to the cancerous region of the body in order to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. Unfortunately, this form of treatment can be extremely hazardous: an incorrect dose of radiation, for example, may leave a large number of “normal” cells damaged along with the targeted cancer cells.

There has been a recent surge in the media regarding cases of over-radiation all over the country, including here in Pennsylvania. Radiation over-exposure can occur for an array of reasons, including computer errors, errors in calculating doses and the radiating of incorrect body parts.

A recent story run in the Philadelphia Inquirer explored a rash of cases of over-radiation in the treatment of prostate cancer at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. From February 2002 to June 2008, the incorrect doses were given to 97 of the 114 patients treated with prostate brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy). As a result, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission penalized the VA with a $227,500 fine, and a current total of 38 veterans and their relatives are seeking $71 million in reparations.

Furthermore, the Inquirer’s Josh Goldstein and Marie McCullough note that, since November 2006, “a computer used to perform post-treatment quality checks was not connected to the hospital’s network, causing 17 men to receive no assessment of their procedures.” These sorts of mistakes are largely due to poor oversight by trained technicians.

On the matter, U.S. Representative John Adler (D., N.J.) critiqued the VA, saying, “There was almost a culture of incompetence surrounding this particular cancer treatment that let down and put over 100 veterans at risk…. They couldn’t get the contracts right, they couldn’t get the computer system right, and, finally, they couldn’t get the quality of care right.”

Since radiotherapy will most always come with certain side-effects, it is important for anyone undergoing the procedure to remain aware of the symptoms that accompany a specific dose of radiation, so that they may identify a case of over-radiation or radiation poisoning.

For more information on the above-mentioned story from the Philadelphia Inquirer, visit the following links:

Original article, by Goldstein and McCullough:

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