Radiation oncologist accused of mishandling seed implants

A radiation oncologist accused of mishandling a large number of radioactive seed implants at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs hospital has come under additional pressure from Congress. The physician, Dr. Gary Kao, told a Congressional panel yesterday that his patients had received effective prostate cancer treatment, despite the fact that he has been identified as performing almost all of 92 substandard implants.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which reviewed about a quarter of the cases of incorrectly placed seeds, concluded that a number of seeds had migrated to the rectum, bladder or perineum. This ties in with an earlier investigation by The New York Times, which had concluded that the prostate cancer unit at the VA hospital also lacked standard safeguards designed to protect patients.

In addition, the NRC charges that while Dr. Kao and others knew that patients received flawed implants, they never reported those mistakes to regulators as required. The program was finally halted last year, pending an investigation of its problems.

Dr. Kao didn't deny that some seeds had been misplaced, but said that the problems were a known risk of the procedure. But an NRC official disagreed, suggesting cases where large numbers of seeds miss the prostate are extremely unusual.

To learn more about this controversy:
- read this article from The New York Times