AAPM statement on quality radiation therapy - The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) has issued a statement today 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.
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: 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.
If you ever had a mammogram, ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, PET scan, or known someone treated for cancer, chances are reasonable that a medical physicist was working behind the scenes to make sure the imaging and treatment procedures were as effective as possible. Medical physicists help to develop new imaging techniques, improve existing ones, and assure the safety of radiation used in medical procedures in radiology, radiation oncology and nuclear medicine. They collaborate with radiation oncologists to design cancer treatment plans. They provide routine quality assurance and quality control on radiation equipment and procedures to ensure that cancer patients receive the prescribed dose of radiation to the correct location. They also contribute to the development of physics intensive therapeutic techniques, such as stereotactic radio-surgery and prostate seed implants for cancer for example.
A qualified medical physicist (QMP) is someone who is competent to practice independently one or more of the clinical subfields of medical physics, documented by specialty training and board certification. More information about the responsibilities of medical physicists is available at www.aapm.org/publicgeneral/default.asp
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) is a scientific, educational, and professional organization of more than 7,000 medical physicists. Headquarters are located at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD. Publications include a scientific journal ("Medical Physics"), technical reports, and symposium proceedings. See: www.aapm.org
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