In France, doctors and radiologists accused of overdosing hundreds of cancer patients, then destroying evidence to cover up their potentially lethal mistakes, are on trial for manslaughter. Out of a group of 24 patients who got up to 20% more radiation than they should have, seven patients died. "The errors were blamed on the radiation machines being upgraded with new ones and doses of radiation being miscalculated." More at the Guardian.

12 Responses to “French doctors on trial for cancer radiation overdoses”

  1. Joel Phillips says:

    I don’t understand.  How did a 20% (or 8-10%) overdose cause severe internal burns?  It’s hard to believe that the safety margins at that small or that the effect is that non-linear.

    • Xeni Jardin says:

      Perhaps a radiation therapist or oncology expert can weigh in, but speaking as someone who *just* finished 28 daily sessions of radiation for breast cancer, I can tell you that this makes total sense to me. Everything about my experience was about precision of position, time, and dose. Right down to the millimeter and microsievert. And as far as fatality and injury go, remember that the population in question is already compromised. They have cancer.

      • Joel Phillips says:

        Yes, would be nice to hear from a practitioner.  N.B. Just because high accuracy is used doesn’t mean that it’s making a big difference.  If had cancer, I’d want to ensure that we were well into the territory of diminishing returns in terms of the effort being put into optimising the treatment schedule.

        Best of luck for the results of the treatment, Xeni.  

    • theophrastvs says:

      yeah something is screwy with the numbers there.  all the radiation safety classes i had to sit through and limited understanding of depurination, deamination (yet i am no “practitioner”) leave me wondering if we’re not experiencing some sort legalistic information decay here (absorbed dose versus emission regardless)

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Safety margins for chemo and radiation are hair thin.  It’s the nature of the treatment – kill the cancer without quite killing the patient.  Sometimes, it’s really borderline.  And dosages may be adjusted according to factors such as how the patient is tolerating it.  20% extra sustained over time is horrific.

  2. fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

    Whatever the initial cause(whether complex and subtle bug or negligent carelessness) the ‘destroying evidence’ bit looks very, very bad.

    Mistakes with complex equipment can happen innocently (though they need not); but destruction of evidence just screams guilt.

  3. Worth pointing out that airport radiation devices are substantially less regulated than medical devices, and operated by people with much less training in radiology. 

  4. geneBee says:

    Big cancer radiation “accidents” (also?) were covered up (legally!!?) during those same
    years in the USA. Required reading should be the NY Times first-in-a-series articles
    starting  Jan 25 2010:  ”Radiation Offers New Cures, and Ways To Do Harm.”

  5. this is horrible.  history repeating itself:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25
    (all computing students, at least when I was at MIT, read the therac-25 paper on how people died due to software errors)

  6. Amelia_G says:

    Thank you for this. Calvin Trillin’s wife as well.

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