Radiation overuse, programming errors damage patients

I commented last week on an EE Live keynote address in which Michael Barr, CTO and cofounder of the Barr Group, put the focus on “killer apps”—in which he cited examples of high-tech products that have caused fatalities. One example he described was a 1980s-vintage radiation therapy machine that in some circumstances provided significant overdoses. (Read my earlier post here.)

Now, an article by John Ericson in Newsweek suggests that unfortunately, advances in technology and the development of comprehensive screening protocols are leading to systemic, excessive irradiation of patients.

In some cases, the problems are related to software. Ericson comments on the case of Alexandra Jn-Charles, whose radiotherapy sessions for cancer treatment resulted in her receiving three time the prescribed amount of radiation because of a programming error.

In other cases, damage is caused not by machine or programming errors, but simply by over-prescribing diagnostic tests. “For example,” writes Ericson, “the CT scan, which has become commonplace in response to rising cancer rates, is itself thought to increase the likelihood that a person develops cancer.”

What's the solution? Ericson quotes Heike Daldrup-Link, an associate professor of radiology at the Stanford School of Medicine, as saying. “The best prevention of radiation-induced side effects from radiographic scans is to replace them by radiation-free alternative imaging technologies, such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging.”

Another alternative is to deliver a supplement that reinforces the body's resistance to radiation-induced damage. James Ehrlich, a clinical associate professor at the University of Colorado and an adviser for Premier Micronutrient Corp., told Newsweek about a study involving a product called BioShield: “It became the first-ever demonstration that a supplement can protect DNA from ionizing radiation.”

Read Ericson's complete article here.

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