Earlier this month, news broke about patients at the CentraCare Health Coborn Cancer Center in St. Cloud receiving improver doses of radiation. The medical errors were caused by employees, not machines.
Radiation therapy is used very sparingly in medicine today, due primarily to its risks. Often used to treat certain types of cancer, radiation therapy sources high-energy radiation to attack cancer cells. Unfortunately, radiation therapy can’t limit its effects solely to cancer cells, which means often healthy cells suffer, as well.
While most medical practitioners explain these risks carefully and diagnose radiation appropriately, there are instances where medical mistakes lead to unnecessary harm. These mistakes could be at the hands of a medical professional or the equipment used. When this happens, it can lead to debilitating illnesses that permanently impact a patient’s quality of life.
Types of Radiation
There are three major types of radiation that may be recommended for treatment and diagnosis of illness:
The least penetrating of radiation types, alpha radiation is often used in internal radiation treatments dosed by taking medication. The treatment has been successful in trials for prostate cancers.
Like alpha radiation, beta radiation is used in radiopharmaceuticals. Beta radiation is often used in beta emitter form, with treatments like Iodine-131 used to treat thyroid disorders caused by cancer and Graves Disease.
These high-energy electromagnetic waves can easily penetrate almost any surface, making it popular for use in external beam therapy. A machine called a linear accelerator is used to generate x-rays or gamma rays.
Gamma radiation is the most powerful type of radiation, which makes it an effective way to treat cancer aggressively. However, this type of radiation is also the most dangerous, since the rays can pass completely through the body.
When a patient is sent for radiation treatment, it is done through a machine that utilizes external-beam radiation therapy (EBT). The equipment generates a beam with the appropriate type of radiation, which is then directed to the site being treated. When handled carefully, this type of radiation can destroy cancer cells without impacting the healthy tissue and cells around it. There are three major types of machines used in radiation treatment.
Linear Accelerator (LINAC)
The most common machine used in EBT for cancer patients, the LINAC uses microwave technology to treat tumors. As the beam leaves the machine, they are designed to exhibit a shape identical to the tumor in order to precisely deliver treatment solely to the area being treated.
Once the preferred radiation treatment for cancer patients, earlier machines were more expensive to operate, allowing the LINAC to win the market. However, medical professionals still use Gamma Knife therapy in applications where precision is required, such as when treating brain tumors.
For more than 60 years, orthovoltage radiation has been used to treat cancer patients. Because it lacks the ability to penetrate deeply beneath the surface, it is often used in treating skin cancers and small tumors.
Internal radiation is an alternative therapy to the radiation provided by machines. Brachytherapy places tiny seeds at the cancer site, where they release radiation as directed by a computer. This advanced treatment can administer precise radiation in a short period of time. Once a series of planned treatments has been completed, the catheters used to plant the seeds are removed and no radioactive seeds remain.
If you or a loved one has been affected by radiation errors, contact Josh Tuchscherer at Meshbesher & Spence to receive a free evaluation of your case to better understand your rights and options. Call toll-free 888-707-6374, 612-339-9121 or complete the case evaluation form to the right.