One More Thing to Worry About

A front page article in the New York Times (January 24, 2010) described the harrowing tales of two patients who were harmed by radiation therapy errors.

Errors Cause Excess Radiation to be Delivered

A front page article in the New York Times (January 24, 2010) described the harrowing tales of two patients who were harmed by radiation therapy errors. Reporter Walt Bogdanich noted that about half of all patients with cancer receive radiation therapy, so there are thousands of patients potentially at risk for harm from treatment errors. In one case, a missing filter in a linear accelerator was purported to cause a gaping chest wound in a young woman being treated for breast cancer. In the other case, a computer error delivered the radiation to unintended and unshielded locations. The patient experienced massive ulceration of his mouth and upper gastrointestinal system, and ultimately became deaf and nearly blind.

Reports of radiation exposure from routine imaging procedures, such as X-rays, have been around for decades. Reports of radiation errors that occur during cancer treatment are relatively new, although they may have been occurring but were not publicized. I'm hoping that now that the public is informed of the risk of serious harm from radiation therapy, they won't hesitate in speaking up and asking about this risk if/when they undergo radiation therapy or accompany a loved one who is receiving this treatment. Sometimes a simple reminder to double check the dosing and equipment is all that is needed to prevent a harmful error in healthcare.