VA Medical Center Admits Fault in Prostate-Cancer Program

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has charged the VA with violating 8 regulations in the medical use of radioactive materials. Philadelphia VA medical center officials as well as VA officials vehemently denied these charges but did apologize for giving incorrect radiation doses to veterans for 6 years as part of a prostate-cancer program. 

A 4 hour hearing was held to allow the VA to explain the problems it had with its prostate-cancer program. Until the hearing, the VA admitted incorrect doses of radiation had been given to 97 veterans. At the hearing, however, the VA changed the number of affected veterans to 19. 

The difference between the 2 numbers is due to the VA’s new criteria for determining if a mistake was made. Previously, the standard the VA was using was based on the size of the dose delivered to the patient’s prostate. Their new criteria, however, examines where the seeds (radiation treatment) are placed in proximity to the cancerous prostate.

While the VA admits their prostate-cancer program had problems, they will not admit those problems are as voluminous as previously reported. To date, the amount of veterans with reoccurrences of their prostate cancer is within the accepted range for this type of treatment.

Over the years, at the Philadelphia VA medical center, there have been numerous episodes of improper implantation of the radiation. These incorrect procedures result in subsequent procedures necessary to remove the errant implants. 31 veterans or wives have already filed claims against the VA totaling $58 million. The mistakes made at the Philadelphia VA medical center lead to several separate investigations to include one by the VA’s inspector general.

The NRC cited the VA for 8 violations last month to include

  • Failing to train doctors and other staff on how to identify bad implants;
  • Lacking procedures to guarantee safe implants; and
  • Not reporting mistakes as quickly or fully as required.

Defenders of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center claimed their staff was fully trained, proper procedures were in place, and that proper procedures are being put in place to handle issues like not having enough peer review available for the program to operate as it should.