New Pinpoint Radiation Treatment Leads To Brain Injury Across The Nation


Posted on 31st December 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

The New York Times Wednesday did a powerful, and frightening, Page One story about state-of-the-art radiation treatment gone awry.

The story begins by talking about Marci Faber, who went to Evanston Hospital in Illinois in 2009 to receive high-density, pinpoint radiation to alleviate pain that was coming from a nerve at the base of her brain. Faber is now in a nursing home, “nearly comatose, unable to speak, eat or walk, leaving her husband to care for their three young daughters,” according to The Times.

And Faber wasn’t the only patient to suffer such damage after undergoing stereotactic radiosurgery, known as SRS. This technology is meant to treat tumors and other problems in the brain and spinal cord, since it is highly targeted and therefore doesn’t damage healthy tissue.

In Evanston problems calibrating the machine that administers SRS — a linear accelerator redesigned so it could do the new type of radiation treatment — led to tragic circumstances for Faber and two other patients. And there have been similar cases around the country. This accelerator is made by Varian Medical Systems.

Linear accelerators have been retrofitted with a cylindrical device, called a cone, which focuses radiation for SRS. But in some cases, operator error has led to patients getting radiation overdoses. In Evanston, hospital officials said that their staff had precisely followed Varian’s instructions, expecting patients to be safe. Obviously, they weren’t.

The Times explains in much detail the saga of problems with the retrofitted Varian linear accelerator. But the bottom lines seems to be this: The Food and Drug Administration should reconsider the hasty approval it granted for the retrofitted accelerator and mistakes involving the complex equipment should be reported in a central database.

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