RADIOSURGERY MISSTEPS LINKED TO BRAIN INJURIES (P. 1)
January 1, 2011
There’s a saying that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. For more than a few stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) patients around the country, the cure may have turned out to be more devastating than the disease. One of the many scary facts of the SRS cases is that the post-surgery injuries took months to manifest, so a nationwide warning went out after perhaps thousands of patients had undergone the procedure.
SRS involves fairly new radiation technology, and it’s quickly gained in popularity. In the old days, even a small brain tumor or spinal cord injury required high-risk, complicated surgery. The risk of injuring healthy tissue weighed on every patient’s and surgeon’s mind as they discussed the procedure.
SRS, on the other hand, allows pinpoint accuracy in the delivery of large, highly concentrated doses of radiation. The device that can achieve this kind of precision is the Gamma Knife, but the Gamma Knife runs on radioactive material and generates radioactive waste. A linear accelerator, the device most commonly used in SRS, generates radiation without using radioactive materials. Safer for the surgical team, cheaper for the hospital — the linear accelerator looks like the way to go.
However, according to research conducted by the New York Times, many of the linear accelerators used in SRS have been adapted from models used in standard radiation therapy. More experience with the retrofitted devices led to further enhancements, but the piling on of electronic parts resulted in components not being able to communicate with other components. One critic called it a “mix and match treatment delivery system” — a delivery system that made serious surgical errors possible, even when the manufacturer’s instructions were followed.
Source: New York Times “A Pinpoint Beam Strays Invisibly, Harming Instead of Healing” 12/29/10