On January 24, 2010, The New York Times published an article titled: "Radiation Offers New Cures, and Ways to Do Harm" by Walt Bogdanich. The story depicts several "mistakes" made in New York where overdoses of radiation had serious, and fatal, consequences. As with any "mistake", even those that are fully accidental and inadvertent, one can trace back the error to a lack of diligence or other potentially solvable problem that could have avoided the error in the first place. The Times article notes that in two fatal cases, a lack of proper physics quality assurance (QA) and diligence stemming from "computer issues" was likely to blame, with human error further complicating the matter.
The physicians and staff of Advanced Radiation Centers of New York are proud of the perfect-record that is maintained in radiation safety among every one of its metropolitan NY facilities - a standard that is at the backbone of each and every task that is performed at ARC. Every physicist, dosimetrist, radiation therapist and physician undergoes further training in safety protocols that not all radiation facilities outside of ARC are required to participate in. In addition, the physics staff of ARC performs QA checks on every single dosimetry plan for every single patient to ensure no surprises or even small issues with the radiation delivery (this QA check is considered "optional" by state law, and was not performed in the fatal case that was described in the Times article). As well, daily calibration checks and machine QA is performed each and every morning.
Clearly, even one major accident in radiation in the country is one too many - but many of these issues can be avoided with strict adherence to high-standards-of-care, exemplified by the policies and procedures at Advanced Radiation Centers of New York.
National organizations that represent the radiation oncology community have already responded as well. The president of The American Society for Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (“ASTRO”) has issued a response to the NY Times article, and as well, they have issued a series of important facts about the overall safety of radiation therapy in this country. Some of these points are shown here (click here to see the ASTRO response the NY Times and their full “fact sheet” ):
---->The New York Times story identified 621 errors over eight years, many of which were minor. We estimate that half a million New Yorkers received radiation therapy over this time period, receiving 13.6 million radiation therapy treatments, meaning errors occurred only .0046 percent of the time. In other words, radiation therapy is safe and effective 99.99 percent of the time.
---->Even one error is too many. However, for every one medical error in New York as reported by the New York Times, we estimate radiation oncologists delivered nearly 22,000 treatments safely and accurately. The vast majority of patients received excellent care and benefit from cure or reduced pain through radiation.
---->We are concerned some patients may avoid lifesaving treatments like radiation therapy due to fear and concerns raised in this article. However, it’s important to note that more than three out of four patients survive their cancer. This means your odds of beating cancer with the help of treatments like radiation therapy are significantly greater than being harmed by a mistake.
---->Radiation oncologists are the only physicians with the expertise and training to prescribe and deliver radiation therapy treatments. In addition to college and medical school, five years of additional training are required for radiation oncologists. Radiation oncologists receive extensive training in cancer medicine, in the safe and effective use of radiation to treat disease, and in managing any side effects caused by radiation.
---->This training includes 500 hours of work experience handling live radiation sources and 200 hours of training in radiation physics, radiation protection, radiation biology and mathematics pertaining to the use and measurement of radioactivity. Once the radiation oncologist passes an examination by the American Board of Radiology, he or she is board certified