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Med Phys. 2010 May;37(5):2300-11.

Off-label use of medical products in radiation therapy: summary of the report of AAPM Task Group No. 121.

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  • 1Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, USA.


Medical products (devices, drugs, or biologics) contain information in their labeling regarding the manner in which the manufacturer has determined that the products can be used in a safe and effective manner. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves medical products for use for these specific indications which are part of the medical product's labeling. When medical products are used in a manner not specified in the labeling, it is commonly referred to as off-label use. The practice of medicine allows for this off-label use to treat individual patients, but the ethical and legal implications for such unapproved use can be confusing. Although the responsibility and, ultimately, the liability for off-label use often rests with the prescribing physician, medical physicists and others are also responsible for the safe and proper use of the medical products. When these products are used for purposes other than which they were approved, it is important for medical physicists to understand their responsibilities. In the United States, medical products can only be marketed if officially cleared, approved, or licensed by the FDA; they can be used if they are not subject to or specifically exempt from FDA regulations, or if they are being used in research with the appropriate regulatory safeguards. Medical devices are either cleared or approved by FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Drugs are approved by FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, and biological products such as vaccines or blood are licensed under a biologics license agreement by FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. For the purpose of this report, the process by which the FDA eventually clears, approves, or licenses such products for marketing in the United States will be referred to as approval. This report summarizes the various ways medical products, primarily medical devices, can legally be brought to market in the United States, and includes a discussion of the approval process, along with manufacturers' responsibilities, labeling, marketing and promotion, and off-label use. This is an educational and descriptive report and does not contain prescriptive recommendations. This report addresses the role of the medical physicist in clinical situations involving off-label use. Case studies in radiation therapy are presented. Any mention of commercial products is for identification only; it does not imply recommendations or endorsements of any of the authors or the AAPM. The full report, containing extensive background on off-label use with several appendices, is available on the AAPM website (

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