Doctors 'Shocked' by Radiation Overexposure at Cedars-Sinai

206 patients recieved twice the radiation of a cancer patient during CT scans.

ByABC News
October 13, 2009, 1:10 PM

Oct. 13, 2009 — -- Doctors have expressed outrage and concern for the unsuspecting patients who received eight times the normal dose of radiation during a specific type of brain scan at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The overdose was discovered when a patient reported lost patches of hair following a CT scan.

The error, which Cedars-Sinai attributed to a "misunderstanding" about an incorrectly programmed CT machine, in a statement released Oct. 12, remained unchecked for 18 months, involved 206 people, and exacerbated existing concerns that patients nationwide are being exposed to excess radiation during medical testing.

"To me, even as a professional, this is a fairly shocking story. These patients received 8-10 times the normal dose for a head CT and probably reached their allowable radiation exposure for the year at a single test," said Dr. James Slater, associate professor of cardiology at the NYU Langone Medical Center. "The fact this error occurred and went undetected for 18 months at a well regarded medical [institution] is rather unbelievable."

Diagnostic imaging tests have increased Americans' average radiation exposure seven times since 1980, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, and increased exposure leads to increased cancer risk.

While occupational radiation exposure is regulated by the government, there is no federal oversight when radiation is used for medical purposes.

"There is no government limit on what you can give a patient when it's a diagnostic test," said Dr. Gary Freedman, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "It's assumed that medically, you do what you need to do and worry about the complications later."

But the radiation doses that the Cedars-Sinai patients received were significantly higher than intended. In some cases, these patients, who were undergoing CT brain perfusion scans, often used to monitor stroke patients, received twice as much radiation as the average cancer patient would receive in one treatment.