VA Hospital Botched Prostate Cancer Treatments in Nearly Four out of Five Men

Thursday, December 03, 2009 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: prostate cancer, veterans, health news

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(NaturalNews) A veterans hospital gave improper doses of radiation to between 70 and 80 percent of all men treated for prostate cancer between February 2002 and June 2008, an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has revealed.

In 92 out of either 114 or 116 treatments performed (depending on the source), medical workers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia botched a procedure known as brachytherapy, in which radioactive seeds are implanted into the body to kill off malignant cells. In 57 of these cases, radiation doses too low to be effective were used. In 35 of these cases, dangerously high levels of radiation were delivered to the wrong part of the body. Some patients were the victims of both errors on separate occasions.

The center's brachytherapy program was shut down in June 2008, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission discovered the shockingly high error rate.

Investigators said that the program was plagued by poor organization and disregard for patient safety, with no one problem able to fully explain the error rate. For example, in November 2006 the computer work station used to verify how much radiation had been administered to a patient (known as post-implant dosimetry) was unplugged from the hospital network to make room for another medical device. Although a number of health workers at the facility requested another network port so that both devices could be used, various hospital departments ignored the request for a year.

"The standard of care is that you do post-implant dosimetry in every case," said radiation oncologist Gregory Merrick. "There's never an excuse for not doing it. Most institutions will not allow you to continue doing procedures if you have no quality assurance."

When investigators asked facility doctors why, if they considered the failure to perform this test "clinically inappropriate," they had not complained to the patient safety officer, they responded that "it had not occurred to them to do so."

Yet the medical errors both pre- and post-dated the unplugged work station. Even after a second network port was finally installed, hospital staff failed to verify the radiation doses administered to another seven patients.

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