6 more botched prostate brachytherapy cases at Philly VAMC

Six more cases of botched brachytherapy treatment for veterans with prostate cancer performed at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) between 2002 and 2008 have been identified, according to an August 18 news report from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The report brings the total number of underdosed, overdosed, and inappropriately dosed cases to 98, or 86% of the total number of procedures performed by radiation oncologist Dr. Gary Kao, Ph.D., one of several radiation oncologists contracted from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia to run the prostate cancer brachytherapy program at the medical center.

The program was shut down on June 11, 2008. It was not made public until more than a year later, on June 21, 2009, when the New York Times published an article detailing a month-long investigation by reporter Walt Bogdanich.

The six new cases were reported as underdoses to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), according to Inquirer staff writer Josh Goldstein. Viktoria Mitlyng, an NRC spokesperson, confirmed that the agency had received the notification. She did not comment on why the new cases had not been found in the review conducted by the Veterans Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the several investigations conducted by the NRC.

The Department of Veterans Affairs told the NRC that it was reporting the six additional events to meet a regulatory requirement, not because of any anticipated harm to the patients, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer report.

Members of Congress investigating the situation, including Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Rep. John Adler (D-NJ), who is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, expressed frustration and concern that the VA was still finding additional errors, Goldstein reported. Sen. Specter headed a field hearing conducted by the Committee on Veterans Affairs in Philadelphia on June 29.

Related Reading

Congress eyes safety of VA prostate brachytherapy: Part 2, August 10, 2009

Congress eyes safety of VA prostate brachytherapy: Part 1, August 6, 2009

VA radiation oncologist admits mistakes, July 1, 2009

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

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