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Around 70 patients in the Seattle area are notified to have received radiation treatments for brain tumors from a faulty machine at Valley Medical Center in Renton. The investigation is taken by state health officials.
The equipment's manufacturer, BrainLab, based in Munich, Germany, sent a letter about the problem to the Renton hospital on June 5. The hospital immediately stopped using the machine and began contacting the patients treated during the past two years.
News of the problem appeared when the French government ordered the malfunctioning devices shut down this week after BrainLab sent letters that resulted in warnings to hundreds of brain cancer patients in France about their radiation treatments. The problem was with an adapter that focuses a beam of radiation on a tumor in the brain on one piece of the machine. The hospital spokesman said that the machine settings were within safety margins, and hospital officials were confident no patients were harmed as a result of the malfunction.

A physics expert at Cleveland Clinic -- the other U.S. hospital involved -- said the error involves a deviation of about 1.25 millimeters, which is similar to variations inherent in the delivery system anyway and he did not believe it would lead to serious problems.

Radiotherapy treatment involves a one-time blast by a high-energy X-ray that is aimed from several sources and focused on one point to kill the tumor. It usually has a margin of error of 0.8 millimeters when used on brain tumors. Health officials intend to review all of Valley's patient records to ensure that nobody received a dangerous amount of radiation.

BrainLab officials said they believed the malfunction occurred in just seven devices in use worldwide: one machine at Valley Medical, one at the Cleveland Clinic, four at hospitals in in France and one in Spain. Because doctors typically allow a certain margin of error in targeting a tumor with radiation, "We don't expect any problems with the patients."

A copy of the notification sent to hospitals and dated June 4 said the malfunction meant the "patient is set to an unintended position" when receiving radiation treatment and signified that this may cause serious injury or death to the patient. A mistargeted machine could irradiate healthy brain tissue. ... It could kill healthy tissue, one radiotherapy expert from Strasbourg said. He said that depends on the part of the brain affected whether this would have a large effect on the patient. Some 550 BrainLab radiotherapy machines are in use worldwide and most of them in the United States.

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And now that they are finding out that it's possible for hackers to get into these machines and cause even more danger, just how comfortable can people feel these days undergoing any kind of x-ray, radiation, MRI, or robotic surgery?
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