News | Radiation Oncology | July 15, 2021

WVU Researcher Leads Effort to Reduce Data-transfer Error in Radiation Therapy

The work of Ramon Alfredo Siochi and other members of a task group will help ensure the accuracy of data that dictates a cancer patient's radiation therapy

Ramon Alfredo Siochi, Ph.D. — the director of medical physics at WVU — led a task group to help ensure the accuracy of data that dictates a cancer patient's radiation therapy.

Ramon Alfredo Siochi, director of medical physics at West Virginia University. Image courtesy of WVU Photo/Aira Burkhart

July 15, 2021 — Just as helicopter traffic reporters use their "bird's eye view" to route drivers around roadblocks safely, radiation oncologists treating a variety of cancers can use new guidelines developed by a West Virginia University researcher to reduce mistakes in data transfer and more safely treat their patients.

Ramon Alfredo Siochi, Ph.D. — the director of medical physics at WVU — led a task group to help ensure the accuracy of data that dictates a cancer patient's radiation therapy. The measures he and his colleagues recommended in their new report safeguard against medical errors in a treatment that more than half of all cancer patients receive.

"The most common mistake that happens in radiation oncology is the transfer of information from one system to another," Siochi, the associate chair for the School of Medicine's Department of Radiation Oncology, said. "This report gives you a good, bird's-eye view of the way data is moving around in your department."

"How frequently do these accidents occur? I think one estimate I saw was that three out of every 100 patients might have an error, but it doesn't necessarily harm them. Now, I don't know what the incidence rate is of errors that are quote-unquote 'near misses' — when an error happens before it hits the patient — but I would imagine it is much higher.

Siochi recently chaired the Task Group of Quality Assurance on External Beam Treatment Data Transfer, a division of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine.

The group was formed in response to news coverage of radiation overdoses caused by faulty data transfer.

"In 2010, it was reported in the New York Times that a patient [in a New York City hospital] was overdosed with radiation because the data somehow didn't transfer properly from one system to another," Siochi said. "Long story short, the patient received a lethal dose of radiation to his head that went on for three days undetected. Now, that falls into the general class of many things happening that were not standard practice. But it could have been avoided."

Radiation therapy is used to treat a variety of cancers, including cancers of the lung, pancreas, prostate, breast, brain and bladder. Depending on a cancer's type or stage, radiation may cure it, shrink it or stop it from coming back.

But as the complexity of radiation therapy has grown — making it possible to target cancers that would once have been too difficult to treat--so too has the amount of data that goes into treatment machines. With more data comes more opportunity for errors.

When Siochi started practicing radiation oncology physics — in the 1990s — this data evoked a tree-lined residential street more than the six-lane highway it brings to mind today.

"It was very analog," he said. "We're talking maybe 20 parameters that you would need to check on a plan, and you would put it all on a paper chart. But I once did a calculation — to do an order of magnitude--and now we're talking about 100,000 parameters. It's just impossible for a human to check."

The group's report, which earned the approval of AAPM and the Science Council, makes that volume of parameters less overwhelming. It explains how data is transferred among various systems used in radiation therapy, and it suggests ways that medical physicists can test the data's integrity throughout the process, contributing to safer treatments.

For more information: www.wvu.edu

Related Content

Non-oncology doctors’ knowledge of oncology is frequently not up to date, with risks in the communication with patients  

Getty Images

News | Radiation Oncology | September 20, 2021
September 20, 2021 — The rapid pace of developments in the oncology field, mainly brought by cancer immunotherapy, me
IBA (Ion Beam Applications S.A., EURONEXT), a world leader in particle accelerator technology, and SCK CEN (Belgian Nuclear Research Center) announced a strategic R&D partnership to enable the production of Actinimum-225 (225Ac), a novel radioisotope which has significant potential in the treatment of cancer.
News | Radiation Oncology | September 17, 2021
September 17, 2021 — IBA (Ion Beam Applications S.A., EURONEXT), a world leader in particle accelerator technology, a
Evaluation of therapeutic efficacy of drug candidates in preclinical oncology with positron emission tomography (PET)

Getty Images

Feature | PET Imaging | September 14, 2021 | By Todd Sasser, Ph.D.
With a wealth of landmark studies in Breast, Cervical, Melanoma, Prostate, Colorectal, Oesophagus, Endocrine and Lung cancer, the ESMO Congress 2021 is a clear demonstration that oncology research has once again gathered momentum after being temporarily stopped in its tracks by the outbreak of the virus

Getty Images

News | Radiation Oncology | September 13, 2021
September 13, 2021 — At the opening press conference of the ...
Laws designed to help women with increased risk for missed breast cancer diagnoses may help catch the disease earlier, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

Getty Images | AleksandarNakic

News | Breast Imaging | September 09, 2021
September 9, 2021 — Laws designed to help women with increased risk for...
Comment letters on the 2022 physician fee schedule and Radiation Oncology Model urge CMS to scale back extreme cuts that jeopardize access to life-saving cancer treatments

Getty Images

News | ASTRO | September 09, 2021
September 9, 2021 — The American Society for Radiation Oncology (AS...

Image of a STING protein, courtesy of UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

News | PET Imaging | September 08, 2021
September 8, 2021 — A new study from scientists at the UCLA Jonsso...
An artificial intelligence (AI) program can spot signs of lung cancer on computed tomography (CT) scans a year before they can be diagnosed with existing methods, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

Diagram showing details of the lung screening experiment. Image courtesy of the European Respiratory Society/Benoit Audelan

News | Artificial Intelligence | September 08, 2021
September 8, 2021 — An artificial intell...
62-Year-Old Woman Who Underwent Hysterectomy for Uterine Cancer: Sagittal chest CT images demonstrate measurement of right (A) and left (B) lung length at hilar level from apex to diaphragmatic dome. Right lung length was 20.1 cm for reader 1 and 20.0 cm for reader 2; left lung length was 21.7 cm for reader 1 and 21.3 cm for reader 2. Patient did not require postoperative mechanical ventilation.

62-Year-Old Woman Who Underwent Hysterectomy for Uterine Cancer: Sagittal chest CT images demonstrate measurement of right (A) and left (B) lung length at hilar level from apex to diaphragmatic dome. Right lung length was 20.1 cm for reader 1 and 20.0 cm for reader 2; left lung length was 21.7 cm for reader 1 and 21.3 cm for reader 2. Patient did not require postoperative mechanical ventilation.

News | Computed Tomography (CT) | September 07, 2021