One such procedure is the CT perfusion scan, which
involves injecting an iodine tracer into the bloodstream and
taking X-Rays for up to a minute of blood flow in the brain.
The procedure is commonly used to diagnose strokes. Typically
the biggest risk from the scan is an about 1 in 600 chance (according
to the LA Times) of developing a brain tumor due to the
radiation, which is equivalent of around 250 chest X-Rays.
That's still a lot considering that approximately 150,000 people have
the scan yearly (meaning that by the LA Times' figures,
approximately 250 people will get brain cancer yearly from the
However, across the country there are reports
popping up of the procedure going horribly wrong and exposing
patients to much higher doses of radiation. The result has been that
many patients have been reporting symptoms of radiation
popped up at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The hospital informed some of its patients that they might have been
exposed, but reportedly has been dragging its feet, not informing all
its patients. Now the FDA has stepped in and is investigating
the mess. The sad part is that some patients only found out
about the potentially life-threatening mistake through news
One patient, Larry Biggles, says that the doctors
willfully deceived him by never revealing the mistake. He
recalls flaking skin, losing clumps of hair, headaches, and blurred
vision. He recounts, "The word 'radiation' never came out
of his mouth. He never said that we messed up and gave you an
overdose of radiation."
Linda Morrow, a stroke victim,
recalls similar irresponsibility. She states, "He said,
'Did you have any side effects, such as reddening of the skin or hair
loss.' I said no. He said, 'Well, thank you very much,' and he hung
up. "I thought: 'What the hell was that?'"
then, the FDA has discovered
other cases of possible overdoses at Glendale Adventist Medical
Center in Glendale, Calif. and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center
in Burbank, Calif. and at Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville,
Alabama. While the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center uses a General
Electric perfusion scanner, St. Joseph uses a Toshiba model, adding
an extra wrinkle to the puzzle.
According to early reports, it
appears that both the Toshiba and GE scanners are configured to safe
levels by technicians for the respective firms. Hospital
technicians then proceeded to modify the protocols to satisfy
doctors' requests for better resolution (more radiation yielded a
better image). After patients began losing hair, the hospitals
discovered their mistake, though none of them have officially
admitted to making a "mistake".
In fact Dr. Barry D. Pressman, chairman
of the imaging department at Cedars-Sinai, says that the delivered
radiation was no greater than that during an angioplasty. Not
only did the hospital do nothing wrong in his opinion, but they are
looking to "address any side-effects that may occur, without
unnecessarily alarming them." He comments, "I
sincerely regret if any patient feels that they did not receive the
information they needed."
Likewise, GE and Toshiba are
unwilling to take the blame for not setting stricter limits on
reconfiguring the scanner settings. Claims Arvind Gopalratnam,
a spokesman for GE, "There were no malfunctions or defects in
any of the GE Healthcare equipment involved."
hospitals and the companies may face punishment from the FDA for
their mistakes and tighter regulation -- whether or not they admit to
them. A number of patients who suffered from unexpected
radiation poisoning are also looking to sue the hospitals or scanner
makers. In Alabama, Becky Coudert, a teacher in Madison County
Schools, suffered from memory loss and hair loss after receiving a
scan. She's now filed
a class action suit against GE Healthcare in Alabama court.
In total, the attorneys involved with the case report 15 other
individuals may be added to the class. They are cooperating with
attorneys in California who have over 200 patients looking to sue.
Toshiba, which manufactured the St. Joseph Medical Center scanner,
may also be targeted by this new suit.
This story is only
beginning to come to light as the FDA says it expects there may be
similar incidents found at other hospitals that practice perfusion
As the litigation piles up, hospitals are facing the
unpleasant decision of whether to absolve themselves of guilt or
admit to wrongdoing and try to help the patients. Whatever
their decision, hopefully the debacle will lead to tighter
restrictions and more sensible administration across the country.