Cancer treatment shocker in T&T

(Trinidad Express) Two hundred and twenty-three cancer patients were administered overdoses of radiation during treatment over the period of a year at the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre in Port of Spain.

Health Minister Fuad Khan and Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Cumberbatch confirmed on Wednesday that the patients were exposed to higher levels of radiation during treatment for cancer at the centre over the period because a radiation treatment machine at the centre was miscalibrated.

This disclosure has confirmed an exclusive Sunday Express investigation last August which uncovered a then-active investigation into the cancer treatment scare at the centre.

Khan, Cumberbatch and other health officials yesterday confirmed at a press conference at the Health Ministry at Park St, Port of Spain, that 223 patients treated for cancer were exposed to more radiation than was required from the machine.

The patients were exposed to overdoses of radiation between four per cent and 20 per cent higher than what was supposed to have been administered to them.

Over one year, patients were exposed to the higher levels of radiation through the machine called a linear accelerator, Khan said.

In September 2010 a Pan American Health Organisation radiation and protection safety team came to Trinidad and Tobago to assist in an investigation involving the machine.

The team confirmed the machine had been miscalibrated and administered overdoses of radiation to patients for a year.

The problems with the machine – called a CLINAC linear accelerator – were resolved.

Cumberbatch said on Wednesday that the Ministry of Health would be monitoring the patients who were overdosed with radiation but it was unlikely that any symptoms of increased radiation treatment and side effects would show up within six months to a year.

The relative of one former patient has already taken legal action against Medcorp Ltd, the operators of the cancer treatment centre.

Health officials would give no details yesterday about the legal action.

Last year, the widow of bar owner Ricardo “Smokey” McKenzie, who died in December 2010 at a hospital in Florida following radiation treatment for a brain tumour, called on the Ministry of Health to release the PAHO report on the Cancer Treatment Centre.

McKenzie, 56, who was co-owner of Smokey’s and Bunty’s at St James, died at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, following a series of treatments locally and abroad for a brain tumour.

Prior to his death, McKenzie was treated at the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre as part of a follow-up procedure to have surgery to remove a brain tumour.

His widow Lisa McKenzie said a pathology report on a mass removed from McKenzie’s brain during a second surgery showed it to be once-healthy brain tissue that suffered radiation necrosis — the death of healthy cells caused by radiation.

In June 2010, a senior physicist who was once employed at the centre, Damian Rudder, submitted a report to the centre’s administrators, noting improper calibration of the machine and the possibility that it could have, at one time, delivered up to
20 per cent more radiation than was necessary.

This was said to have occurred at a time when they did not have a resident senior physician.

The centre, was opened in 2007 and is named after cricket star Brian Lara.

Rudder, a certified radiological physicist, stated in his report published in the Sunday Express that an error in the calibration of the accelerator-the only one of its kind in the region- had been confirmed after several days of testing.

Rudder stated: “My concern is that for all current treatment plans and second MU check systems would be inconsistent with the current calibration of the machine, hence patients’ treatments will not be correct.”

He had recommended to Medcorp that the machine be removed from service until it was properly calibrated and re-assessed by qualified personnel.

Interviewed by the Sunday Express on July 24, Medcorp chief executive Alain Guy Tanefo said that at the time the tests were done by Rudder, one of the instruments used, an electrometer, was found to be possibly faulty.

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