Overradiation Cases in Treatment of Cancer

Overradiation Cases in Treatment of Cancer

As of 2010, Americans receive far more medical radiation than ever before. According to recent studies, the average lifetime dose of diagnostic radiation has increased sevenfold since 1980 and more than half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy. More and more cancer patients are receiving radiation therapy in the form of IMRT (intensity modulated radiation therapy), a rapidly growing therapy, where we believe that the pace of technology is getting ahead of proper, common sense safety protocols.

Although radiation therapy, particularly in the treatment of cancer, has shown great usefulness, the tragic fact remains that when safety rules and protocols for the administration of radiation treatment are violated, the injury and harm can be deadly, as noted in the Thompson Cancer Center report, IMRT QA II.

A recent series of articles in the New York Times from February, 2010 highlights the disastrous consequences of over radiation injuries of cancer patients using IMRT radiation technology, when safety protocols are not properly followed. You may link to the series of IMRT overradiation injury articles here, and also here.

IMRT stands for "intensity modulated radiation therapy" and differs substantially from standard linear accelerator radiation technology.

The concept of IMRT radiation therapy is that using this relatively new technology, the radiation oncologist, with the assistance of a medical physicist and radiation therapist, can better target the tumor for radiation and avoid overradiating normal cell tissue.

In essence, instead of one steady stream of radiation, the patient receives a "modulated" stream of radiation, digitally targeted to mimic the precise dimensions of the tumor. This type of radiation plan is quite complex, and involves significant time and effort to avoid overradiation and the inadvertent radiation of otherwise healthy cell tissue.

Although there are some professional guidelines for use of this treatment, (IMRT Guidelines), unfortunately, IMRT machines and technology are being sold in a largely unregulated marketplace with manufacturers competing by offering the latest in technology, with only a cursory review by the government and hospitals buying the IMRT equipment to lure patients and treat them more quickly. If you are a candidate for this type of treatment, take a moment to review some of the literature concerning IMRT Quality Assurance. These problems with IMRT treatment, and over radiation generally, has just begun to attract the attention of lawmakers, who are now conducting hearings in Washington D.C..

According to Eric C. Klein, a medical physicist and professor of radiation oncology at Washington University in St. Louis, "Vendors are selling to anyone...new technologies were coming into the clinics without people thinking through Step 1 to Step 112 to make sure everything is going to be done right."

A national testing service recently found unacceptable variations in doses delivered by the now common form of machine generated radiation called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy ("IMRT"). An association of medical physicist issued new guidelines in November, 2009.

Problems with the IMRT technology extend to problems with the software that actually runs the machines as well as deficiencies in the experience and licensing of the technicians programming, checking and administering the IMRT machines, particularly, the medical physicists and radiology technicians.

Despite the pivotal role medical physicists play in ensuring patient safety, at least 16 states do not require licensing or registration of medical physicists, and 8 states allow radiation technologists to perform medical imaging (other than mammography use) with no credentials or educational requirements. Fortunately, Medicare and Federal officials are beginning to deal with IMRT and radiation treatment abuses more aggressively.

At Sarisohn, Sarisohn, Carner, & DeVita, we believe that while radiation therapy in the great majority of cancer treatments provides benefit to cancer patients, there is a small minority of situations where radiation therapy is unintentionally misapplied, whether due to software error, or lack of proper training and credentialing of the radiation oncologist, medical physicist and/or radiation technologist. Unfortunately, in cases involving medical error due to overradiation, particularly those administered through IMRT technology, the consequences can be devastating for the patient.

Our law firm has taken great interest in prosecuting these cases against the responsible parties. If you suspect that, yourself a family member or a friend has been over radiated and injured as a consequence of cancer treatment, whether by IMRT radiation therapy, or any other form of radiation modality, please contact us, since we would like to speak with you and hear about your situation.