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Cancer Patients Exposed to High Radiation

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Dozens of patients at a cancer treatment center were exposed to radiation levels 50 percent stronger than they were supposed to receive because a radiation machine was improperly installed.

Physicists from the federal Radiological Physics Center detected the error on March 7, but the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute didn't acknowledge it until Friday.

Officials said 77 patients were affected. Twelve have since died.

``Some people were having side effects, but overall, they were within the normal range of side effects of radiation treatments,'' said the center director, Dr. William Dalton. ``We aren't seeing unanticipated levels of side effects.''

However, he said it could three months to a year for side effects such as headaches and speech and memory loss to appear.

``We at Moffitt take full responsibility for the programming error,'' Dalton said.

According to a report by the Florida Bureau of Radiation Control, a physicist calibrating the machine used an incorrect formula.

``They were supposed to have a second physicist independently verify the calibrations of the first physicist,'' said Bill Passetti, the bureau's chief. ``It looks like the second verification wasn't performed, which is a violation of the facility's protocol and procedures.''

The state agency fined the center $1,000 on March 24, giving the hospital 30 days to appeal.
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