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B.C. falls behind on vital cancer testing: report

March 1, 2012
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Most provinces in Canada, including B.C., are lagging far behind the U.S. and Europe in giving cancer patients access to diagnostic technology that changes and refines treatment in half of all cases, according to a report commissioned by a research lab at the University of British Columbia.

PET (positron-emission tomography) scans analyze the body on a biological or cellular level, revealing malignant activity before a tumour has formed, where existing cancer has spread and whether it has responded to treatment. Yet limited funding from governments and low awareness of the testing among cancer patients, the public and medical professionals mean the technology is underutilized in B.C., and much of Canada, according to the report’s author.

“It should be a first-line diagnostic tool, not one used as a last resort, which is what’s happening in Canada,” said Susan Martinuk, the researcher who wrote the report commissioned by TRIUMF, the UBC-based particle and nuclear physics research lab.

B.C. has two PET machines at the BC Cancer Agency. But the report, released Monday, concludes B.C. should have at least six machines. The report was co-commissioned by Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, a not-for-profit consortium of academic, government and industry stakeholders in the subatomic technology field.

Because of the need to manufacture and inject patients with a costly radioactive tracing agent before the test, PET scans cost about $1,350 in B.C. Finite funding from the provincial government has put a cap on both the machines and scans.

The World Health Organization recommends a ratio of two machines per million people; Canada’s current ratio is less than half that.

Dr. Phil Cohen, head of nuclear medicine at Lions Gate Hospital, said he thinks it’s “scandalous” that PET isn’t used more and maintains surgeons working on patients with tumours in areas that are hard to observe, such as the lungs, are “operating blindly” without a pre-surgery scan.

pfayerman@vancouversun.com

Article source: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=3b6a50c7-9d60-4432-b500-03cd4ad6262f&k=67076

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