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Preventing Accidental Exposures from New External Beam Radiation Therapy Technologies

ICRP Publication 112

Ann. ICRP 39 (4), 2009

P. Ortiz Lopez, J.-M. Cosset, P. Dunscombe, O. Holmberg, J.-C. Rosenwald, L. Pinillos Ashton, J.J. Vilaragut Llanes, S. Vatnitsky


Abstract - Disseminating the knowledge and lessons learned from accidental exposures is crucial in preventing re-occurrence. This is particularly important in radiation therapy; the only application of radiation in which very high radiation doses are deliberately given to patients to achieve cure or palliation of disease.

Lessons from accidental exposures are, therefore, an invaluable resource for revealing vulnerable aspects of the practice of radiotherapy, and for providing guidance for the prevention of future occurrences. These lessons have successfully been applied to avoid catastrophic events with conventional technologies and techniques. Recommendations, for example, include the independent verification of beam calibration and independent calculation of the treatment times and monitor units for external beam radiotherapy, and the monitoring of patients and their clothes immediately after brachytherapy.

New technologies are meant to bring substantial improvement to radiation therapy. However, this is often achieved with a considerable increase in complexity, which in turn brings opportunities for new types of human error and problems with equipment. Dissemination of information on these errors or mistakes as soon as it becomes available is crucial in radiation therapy with new technologies. In addition, information on circumstances that almost resulted in serious consequences (near misses) is also important, as the same type of events may occur elsewhere. Sharing information about near-misses is thus a complementary important aspect of prevention. Lessons from retrospective information are provided in Sections 2 and 4 of this report.

Disseminating lessons learned for serious incidents is necessary but not sufficient when dealing with new technologies. It is of utmost importance to be proactive and continually strive to answer questions such as ‘What else can go wrong’, ‘How likely is it?’ and ‘What kind of cost-effective choices do I have for prevention?’. These questions are addressed in Sections 3 and 5 of this report.

Section 6 contains the conclusions and recommendations. This report is expected to be a valuable resource for radiation oncologists, hospital administrators, medical physicists, technologists, dosimetrists, maintenance engineers, radiation safety specialists, and regulators. While the report applies specifically to new external beam therapies, the general principles for prevention are applicable to the broad range of radiotherapy practices where mistakes could result in serious consequences for the patient and practitioner.

Recommended reference format for citations

ICRP, 2009. Preventing Accidental Exposures from New External Beam Radiation Therapy Technologies. ICRP Publication 112. Ann. ICRP 39 (4).


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