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Radiation Safety Concerns in the Medical Field

The Huffington Post—February 16, 2010

by Helene Pavlov, M.D., FACR, Radiologist-in-Chief at Hospital for Special Surgery

A recent NY Times article reported on overradiation at a number of institutions across the country. The article highlights some disturbing stories at a number of hospital and medical facilities including:

Some excerpts from the Times piece:

In New Jersey, 36 cancer patients at a veterans hospital in East Orange were overradiated -- and 20 more received substandard treatment -- by a medical team that lacked experience in using a machine that generated high-powered beams of radiation. The mistakes, which have not been publicly reported, continued for months because the hospital had no system in place to catch the errors.

In Louisiana, Landreaux A. Donaldson received 38 straight overdoses of radiation, each nearly twice the prescribed amount, while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. He was treated with a machine so new that the hospital made a miscalculation even with training instructors still on site.

The report asserts that many of these mistakes could have been caught had basic checking protocols been followed.

In the world of radiology, medical oncology and other fields of medicine where radiation plays a key role in diagnosis and treatment, safety must be top priority. First, it must be emphasized that these stories are of patients who received radiation therapy. The doses used for radiation therapy compared to the ionizing radiation exposure from a diagnostic imaging examination, e.g., conventional x-ray, CT, NM, etc., are significantly greater. The risks presented in this news story were associated with radiation therapy and are not to be equated with the risk of a diagnostic radiology examination. However, it is also not to downplay the dangers of ionizing radiation from diagnostic examinations but to keep it in perspective. Registered Technologists working with ionizing radiation and/or radioisotopes are trained and certified in most states to handle, administer and correctly dispose of these materials. As new technology and equipment that emits ionizing radiation becomes available, rigorous training is essential to ensure that there is complete understanding of how to properly utilize the new equipment and maximize its diagnostic and/or treatment power while protecting the patient.
Read the full story at huffingtonpost.com.


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