In the wake of several recent articles in the New York Times yesterday and earlier in the week that discuss a number of rare but tragic events in the last decade involving people undergoing radiation therapy, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) has issued a statement.
While it does not specifically comment on the details of these events, the statement acknowledges their gravity. It reads in part: "The AAPM and its members deeply regret that these events have occurred, and we continue to work hard to reduce the likelihood of similar events in the future." The full statement appears at: http://www.aapm.org/publicgeneral/QualityRadiationTherapy.asp
Today's statement also seeks to reassure the public on the safety of radiation therapy, which is safely and effectively used to treat hundreds of thousands of people with cancer and other diseases every year in the United States. Medical physicists in hospitals and clinics across the United States are board-certified professionals who play a key role in assuring quality during these treatments because they are directly responsible for overseeing the complex technical equipment used.
"The primary day-to-day responsibility of our members is to safeguard the welfare of people undergoing radiation therapy," says AAPM President Michael G. Herman, Ph.D. FAAPM, FACMP. "While adverse events during such treatments are very rare, the recent articles serve as a poignant reminder that they still occur, and like all medical professionals, we are deeply saddened by the stories of human tragedy when they do."
As an organization AAPM has always worked hard to reduce the risk of such adverse events through education, quality, and safety initiatives, and today's statement outlines some of these, adds Dr. Herman. For instance, AAPM already has plans in the works for a cross-disciplinary national summit in June that aims to identify ways of enhancing the safety and effectiveness of human radiation therapy.
"As we continue to support high-quality radiation therapy for every patient in the fight against cancer, AAPM remains committed to identifying and implementing opportunities to improve safety," says Dr. Herman, who is a professor and director of the Medical Physics Division in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Mayo Clinic. "We will achieve this through enhancing routine quality performance in a practical manner for the treatment team, helping to facilitate consistent, national radiation therapy event reporting, and continuing to identify and surmount barriers to improved safety.