VA Hospital Cited for Shoddy Cancer Care for 55 Vets

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Some 55 prostate cancer patients were given too-low doses of radiation treatment at the local Veterans Affairs hospital in the past 6 1/2 years, and federal investigators want to know why.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Tuesday it is inspecting the Philadelphia VA Medical Center's facilities and procedures to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

The treatment program, which started in February 2002, remains suspended while the investigation is under way, officials said.

The 55 affected veterans have been notified and VA doctors are reviewing their cases to determine what, if any, additional care they may need, NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said.

The men underwent brachytherapy, which involves implanting radioactive iodine pellets (often called "seeds") in the prostate to kill cancer cells. Men who undergo only that type of treatment typically have low-risk prostate cancer, experts say.

The program had treated 114 cancer patients before it was halted when the problem surfaced this spring. It was discovered that one patient had received a radiation dosage that was less than 80 percent of what was prescribed, according to the NRC.

Hospital officials then reviewed the records of the other patients to see which ones might have received the wrong radiation dosage. They found 55 received too-low doses.

Two of the 114 men had died, but their deaths were unrelated to either their prostate cancer or the treatment, hospital spokesman Dale Warman said.