Some of the most devastating radioactive medicine in existence has been a handful of years old, just half a year old, and disposed of in an old but still functioning medical waste facility.
And these cases have become even more frequent as the world races to learn more about the world’s oldest—and, until recently, perhaps most mysterious—cancer, ovarian cancer.
On Monday, an American woman died, only the second to do so since 1987. and this appears to be the second case reported in the US in a matter of months. On March 18, the highest levels of radiation ever recorded in the US were released after a spectacular, uncontrolled accident at the Athens, Greece, plant. Several days later, nearly 4 million Americans were under a separate, but equally intense alert after a plant in Geigerronium USA leaked radioactive gases.
This most recent death was reported Wednesday afternoon in the New York Times by Jennifer Epstein, who is a NYT deputy national health editor and a board member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. A spokeswoman for the Association of Research Libraries said that the American Society of Clinical Oncology confirms the death.
The latest death was a 58-year-old New Yorker. She developed symptoms of the disease last summer and had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, before being hospitalized with a blood infection late last fall. After surviving earlier surgery on her ovaries and Fallopian tubes, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and died from it on 7 April.
I’m surprised that this number of new reports out of the US is even more than three. Across the globe, the number of omicron cases is reported in the hundreds. And even then, the data are sparse. At present, researchers have detected 20 ovarian cancer patients who have received treatment from therapeutic agents such as omicron thiopharmaceuticals, compounds known as trastuzumab or Gleevec. So more than 1,000 people have received treatments with OTCS around the world, but no long-term data are publicly available.
Only about half of omicron cases are detected when they occur in healthy women, perhaps due to unfamiliarity with the drugs. In this most recent case, it was not immediately clear whether the death was due to ovarian cancer or cancer of the blood. The chief cause of death was renal failure. Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an Oncology Institute in Puerto Rico, who treated the woman, suspected she had been exposed to radiation from the OTCS plant in Georgia, but that is not certain.
In late 2016, Ocular News, a supplier of omicron drugs, obtained inventory lists from the manufacturers of 11 treatments of omicron products. The name of each product was redacted, and most manufacturing facilities were closed or had been phased out over the past several years.
Only the name of the medical company that manufactured the omicron used in the patient’s treatment was given out. On the list, it was noted that the product, trastuzumab hydrochloride, had been put out of use just 12 months before the illness was diagnosed.
As the AFP reported Wednesday, this omicron label was updated at least twice in the past two years. In 2016, the label was revised in February, to raise the limit of acceptable radiation exposure. The label changes were the result of an agency review that took place around that time, and was unrelated to the WHO Omicron guidelines, according to a company spokesman.
Reporter Vasileios Filippoulis wrote: “It is alarming that an off-patent omicron product that was using the same plant for 26 years was detected with exposure levels that many experts consider far too high.”