Prostate Cancer Patients Received Wrong Dose of Radiation at VA Medical Center

Dozens of prostate cancer patients did not receive proper treatment for their condition at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.  According to the Associated Press, the VA Center’s facilities and procedures are being inspected in an attempt to figure out how such a major <"">medical mistake was made.

The errors date all the way back to February 2002, when the VA began a treatment program that involved implanting patients with  radioactive seeds to destroy cancer cells in their prostates.  The treatment is known as brachytherapy, and is used to treat patients with low-risk prostate cancer.  In all, 114 men received the prostate cancer treatment at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. At least two men have died since their treatment, but their deaths were not due to prostate cancer, the Associated Press said.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the VA informed it in May that one patient’s CT scans revealed that he got a radiation dosage that was less than 80 percent of what was prescribed.  That discovery was followed by  a review of  medical records and testing on 112 living veterans implanted with the seeds since the program started. The VA discovered that 55 patients received radiation doses that were  too low.

When the VA first announced the radiation mishap early last month, at least one medical expert told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the mistake should have been caught sooner.  “The routine in the U.S. is to assess the implant at three to four weeks out,” said Eric M. Horwitz, clinical director of the radiation oncology department at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

The Philadelphia VA has suspended its prostate cancer treatment program as a result of the ongoing probe. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Tuesday that a special inspection is now under way at the facility. Three inspectors from the Commission will review the medical center’s policies and procedures, qualifications and training of those administering the treatment, and the center’s response.  The Commission said it would release a report 45-days after the inspection is complete.

The 55 affected veterans have been notified and VA doctors are reviewing each case to determine what, if any, additional care the men may need, the Commission said.

The Philadelphia VA Medical Center has come under scrutiny for other medical errors.  Last month, VA officials said they were also investigating an incident in which an Air Force veteran on the blood thinner warfarin had his blood drawn twice July 30 and was put in a research study without his knowledge or consent. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, as many as six patients had their  blood drawn without their consent.

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