VA radiation oncologist admits mistakes

The radiation oncologist accused of botching dozens of brachytherapy procedures at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) admitted to Congress that he sometimes missed his target when implanting radioactive seeds, according to a report by the New York Times.

Voluntarily testifying on Monday, June 29, at a field hearing held by the U.S. Senate at the hospital, Dr. Gary Kao, Ph.D., stated that he did not believe procedures were botched, and that while he could have done better with some implants, his patients overall received effective treatment for their prostate cancer, according to the New York Times. Times newspaper reporter Walt Bogdanich broke the story on June 21.

Kao was one of several radiation oncologists who performed brachytherapy procedures at the Philadelphia VAMC from 2002 to 2008. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) found that in 92 of 116 procedures performed by Kao, patients received incorrect radiation doses due to incorrect placement.

In the June 29 hearing, Kao did not deny placing a large number of seeds outside the prostate, but he said that investigators were wrong to single him out, the Times reported. Kao said that he was never instructed on what constitutes a reportable, potential mistake, and that at no point did he try to cover up implants the NRC said were faulty, according to the Times.

Dr. Gerald Cross, acting under secretary of health for veterans affairs, testified that the Department of Veterans Affairs had failed to uncover the problems because complications from radiation did not immediately appear and because the brachytherapy program at the Philadelphia VAMC had been accredited by two organizations, including the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) in Fairfax, VA, the Times reported.

The Congressional panel was headed by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who also sits on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Under questioning from Specter, Kao acknowledged that he never informed patients when he made mistakes, Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press reported.

Related Reading

NY Times story claims treatment errors at VA brachytherapy unit, June 23, 2009

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