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Radiation Safety
The safety of patients is of the utmost importance to
Fox Chase's Department of Radiation Oncology

Confronting Cancer Today
Dr. Eric Horwitz discusses cancer treatment on the NBC
Today Show, June 12, 2009

More Information
The American Society for Radiation Oncology has a useful website (www.rtanswers.org) that offers information and guidance for patients undergoing radiation therapy, as does The National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

A recent series of articles in the New York Times highlighted problems patients face when radiation treatment does not follow proper safety guidelines. This has raised questions for many patients across the country, including those visiting Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Unlike the hospitals cited in the Times's January 2010 series, Fox Chase Cancer Center has been consistently recognized as one of the best NCI centers in the country for radiation therapy and safety standards. In fact, Fox Chase experts, such as Dr. Eric Horwitz, are frequently consulted on safety issues at other institutions.

Radiation therapy is safe and effective more than 99.99 percent of the time.

The medical tragedies resulting from lack of adequate safety protocols must be addressed, but they should also be put into perspective. In its research, the New York Times identified 621 radiation therapy errors over eight years in New York.  With more than 500,000 New Yorkers being treated during that period, receiving more than 13.6 million individual sessions of radiation, errors occurred only .0046 percent of the time. 

What patients need is the right information to carry on an informed conversation with their physicians. The key for patients is to select an institution that has multiple layers of thoughtful checks and balances in place to assure that the proper radiation is delivered as prescribed, and to prevent occasional errors wherever possible.

The safety of patients is of the utmost importance to Fox Chase

Fox Chase's team of highly trained medical professionals, who are responsible for delivering radiation therapy, works hard to ensure patients' safety. This team includes a radiation oncologist, medical physicist, accelerator engineer, dosimetrist, radiation therapist, and radiation oncology nurse. There are rigid quality assurance regulations in place for hospitals and physicians at both the state and federal levels to which Fox Chase adheres fully.

Fox Chase has a large active Radiation Safety Committee which oversees both our linear accelerators and brachytherapy program. Several of our physicists are regularly invited to teach courses on IMRT and IGRT at the annual American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) meetings. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the safe use of linear accelerators, has even sent one of their inspectors to Fox Chase for training.

Asking the Right Questions, Getting Solid Answers

When choosing a radiation therapy team, patients can make an informed decision by asking the right questions that will make clear the level of safety precautions. Some may be more technical than others.

  • What does the institution do to make sure a patient receives the proper treatment? 
    Fox Chase Cancer Center has a team of highly trained, board-certified radiation oncologists leading treatment, following some of the most rigid, thorough safety guidelines in the medical community. (See above)
  • Before administering therapy, does the team radiate a “phantom” with radiation detectors inside to make sure the delivery plan matches the radiation delivered by the machine?
    Fox Chase Cancer Center has treated more than 4600 patients with IMRT over the past 10 years and performs IMRT QA on every patient, which is not required by the state or federal governments.
  • Does the team perform daily image guidance for IMRT and other sophisticated treatments to check the proper position before treatment and take pictures of what was delivered?
    The Radiation Oncology team performs daily image guidance for IMRT and other sophisticated treatments, which check the proper position before the patient receives his or her daily treatment. This includes several different technologies including ultrasound, real-time tracking with radiofrequency beacons, conebeam CT and CT on Rails, and implanted fiducial markers depending upon the treatment site.
  • Is there more than one radiation therapists working the machine so that no one is treating a patient alone?  
    Yes. There are always multiple radiation therapists on each machine so no one is treating alone.
  • Are there full-time engineers and IT staff on site to assure that the equipment is functioning correctly on a daily basis? 
    In addition to employing full-time engineers and IT staff on site to assure that the radiation equipment is functioning properly, Fox Chase has one of the largest medical physics groups in the country, with internationally recognized expertise in IMRT, stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy (SRS/SRT), and Monte Carlo calculations. This ensures we perform measurement-based treatment plan/beam delivery validation.

In the case of a radiation oncology department, as with other areas of medicine, years of experience, patient volume, and size of the department are relevant factors and can give patients peace of mind.

For more information about radiation oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center or to make an appointment, call 1-888-FOX CHASE (1-888-369-2427).