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Patient Dies After Radiation Exposure, Officials Say

June 20, 1986

TYLER, Texas (AP) _ Two cancer treatment machines of the same model malfunctioned in Texas and Georgia, exposing three patients to excessive radiation last spring and killing one of them, officials disclosed.

Two of the malfunctions in the Therac 25 linear equipment occurred at the East Texas Cancer Center in March and April, said administrator Dick Higginbotham. The center has stopped using the equipment, he said.

The patient who died, a 33-year-old man, ″was suffering from several life- threatening diseases,″ according to a news release from the East Texas Hospital Foundation, parent organization of the cancer center. He died three weeks after his overexposure.

The other patient, a 66-year-old man, was treated after the malfunction at a Dallas hospital.

The release gave no further details about the patients.

In Marietta, Ga., an identical Therac 25 at the Kennestone Regional Oncology Center unleashed a huge radiation dose on Katie Yarborough, 61, who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, according to attorney Bill Bird of Atlanta.

The woman immediately felt pain and irritation below the collarbone in a spot that over several weeks developed into a deep, discolored hole between the size of a quarter and a half-dollar, Bird said. The injury destroyed a vital nerve center and robbed Yarborough of the use of her left arm, he said.

″It was certainly not like anything any of us have ever seen,″ said Dr. Kenneth Haile, director of radiation oncology at Kennestone.

The incident was not reported because no problem with the machine could be detected, said Haile.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating the incidents, but its findings are confidential, said FDA spokesman Theodore Rotto.

The Texas Bureau of Radiation Control is also investigating the incidents, the release said.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Canadian-government owned manufacturer of the equipment, has since told users of the machine how to prevent the malfunction and is modifying the equipment’s software to prevent a recurrence of the incidents, officials said.

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