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Diagnostic imaging

BC Cancer doubles PET/CT scanning capacity

VANCOUVER – A second PET/CT scanner installed at the BC Cancer Agency will double the number of scans that can be done on cancer patients or those who might have cancer – from 3,100 scans to 6,200 scans annually.

The new PET/CT scanner has been installed in the Centre of Excellence for Functional Cancer Imaging at the BC Cancer Agency. This second scanner comes less than a year after the Ministry of Health and BC Cancer Agency officially opened the new $15-million radiopharmaceutical facility in Vancouver that produces the isotopes needed for PET/CT scanning.

“The PET/CT approach enables us to diagnose and manage cancer more efficiently,” said Dr. Don Wilson (pictured), medical director, Centre of Excellence for Functional Cancer Imaging, BC Cancer Agency.

“The scans provide more information with a higher level of accuracy, which leads to improved cancer treatment strategies for individual patients,” said Dr. Wilson. “This approach can help us avoid unnecessary surgeries and treatments. In limited stage lymphoma, for example, PET/CT has allowed us to avoid radiation treatment in 85 percent of our patients while maintaining the same high rates of cure.”

“I feel so fortunate that I was part of the PET/CT program,” said Larissa Norton, lymphoma cancer patient. “I did not get exposed to radiation therapy, which now reduces my risk of getting secondary cancers in the future.”

A positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) scanner is a whole-body imaging tool that allows physicians to more accurately diagnose and manage disease, particularly cancer.

Depending on the sensitivity of radioactive tracers, a PET/CT scan can tell a physician the location and size of the tumour, along with how well a patient is responding to treatment, which enables the treatment to be tailored accordingly.

The radiotracer used for PET/CT consists of glucose, combined with a safe radioactive component, and injected into a patient. It is absorbed by malignant or cancerous cells in the body, where it gives off energy that is detected by the PET/CT scanner.

Malignant cells are more metabolically active than benign cells, and use up glucose at a faster rate. The increased activity is picked up by the PET scanner, allowing physicians to identify where abnormal metabolic activity is occurring in the body.

While the PET scanning part of the machine detects the presence and location of neoplasms, the CT device and corresponding computer software produces detailed images of the structure of tumours and surrounding organs and tissues.

PET/CT scans are also valuable as a research tool to further advance cancer treatment and care. The BC Cancer Agency’s research team uses the Centre of Excellence for Functional Cancer Imaging to investigate ways in which PET/CT scanning can be more targeted to specific types of cancer, making it an even more effective technology for diagnosing, staging and managing cancer.

The province, through the Provincial Health Services Authority, is contributing $1.5 million in annual operational costs for the second scanner. The BC Cancer Foundation provided $3.2 million to purchase the second scanner, as well as to upgrade the first.

“This is great news for our provincial cancer screening program,” said Wynne Powell, board chair, Provincial Health Services Authority. “It demonstrates our ongoing commitment to British Columbians and their health and ensuring they have access to the best possible care we can provide.”

• In Sept. 2010, the BC Ministry of Health and BC Cancer Agency officially opened a new $15-million cyclotron/radiopharmaceutical facility in Vancouver.

• It is the first publicly funded facility in the province dedicated to the production of isotopes for health-care purposes, such as those used in PET/CT scanning.

• The facility houses the province’s first publicly funded PET/CT scanner, in operation since June 2005, as well as the second PET/CT scanner.

• The BC Cancer Foundation provided $3.2 million to purchase the second PET/CT scanner, as well as upgrade and replace the first unit.

• The Ministry of Health, through the Provincial Health Services Authority, is providing $1.5 million annually to operate the second scanner.

• The two scanners double the previous clinical output capacity from approximately 3,100 scans to 6,200 scans annually.

Posted September 8, 2011