Trinidad cancer patients get radiation overdose
An investigation by the Pan American Health Organisation finds that 223 patients got too much radiation at a cancer centre in the twin-island federation.
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Thursday July 7, 2011 – Health Minister Dr. Fuad Khan has confirmed that 223 cancer patients who sought treatment at the Brian Lara Cancer Centre from December 2008 to September 2010 may have been exposed to an overdose of radiation due to a malfunctioning radiation machine.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Khan, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anton Cumberbatch and other health officials said the findings were made following investigations which were conducted by officials from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) for the Ministry on the mis-calibration of the centre’s liner accelerator, a device used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer.
The liner accelerator is used to deliver a uniform dose of high-energy x-rays to a patient’s cancerous tumour which can destroy the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding tissue.
Khan said the ministry had received a complaint from a bond-certified medical physicist, on June 28, 2010, about the possible mis-calibration, over a period of approximately 12 months, with a radiation reading ranging from four to 20 percent over the recommended dosage.
The report, he said, stated that during the PAHO investigation the centre’s radiation oncologist said the centre was aware of the possible “calibration discrepancy”.
“There were no records of action taken by the centre to notify any patient of this possible mis-administration. Nothing of this nature has been communicated by the Brian Lara Cancer Centre to the ministry. We found no evidence that the Brian Lara Cancer Centre has made any effort to notify the involved patients of the mis-calibration incident and potential impact on their well-being and quality of life,” the report said.
Dr. Cumberbatch assured that instructions have now been given to the Centre to get in touch with all patients who were exposed and to look over their medical reports to determine the risk of radiation exposure.
“Monitoring patients who are exposed to radiation extends to three to five years. It is possible that in the initial six months or first year there may not be any symptoms.
Depending on what you were treated for the risk of the exposure may be greater,” he said.
He added that preliminary reports from the PAHO consultants indicated the majority of patients may not have been at any risk at all.
“But there are a couple who may be more at risk and we are keeping our eyes on those,” Dr. Cumberbatch noted.
He said since the linear accelerator has been fixed and was functioning properly and there has been no under or over exposure since June 2010.
The Health Ministry has been developing radiation protection legislation to ensure the safety and protection of patients receiving radiation treatment for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, as well as health workers, since 2006, which will be forwarded to Cabinet shortly.
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