Radiologist says PET scanner to become standard of care in future

Cory Hurley cory.hurley@tc.tc
Published on January 17, 2014
Dr. Bob Cook, a radiologist in Corner Brook, says it is irresponsible not to include a PET scanner in the plan for a new regional
hospital.
— Photo by Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star

CORNER BROOK—A radiologist in Corner Brook says it is irresponsible not to include a PET scanner in the plans for a new regional hospital.

It may not be vital for a hospital today, Dr. Bob Cook says, but he expects there to be a lot of changes in nuclear medicine and radiology in eight years’ time.

It is important for medical professionals to continue working with current standards of practice and technologies, Cook said, but it is most important to him to be able to provide the best health care possible to his patients.

“For us, getting a PET scanner would keep us current,” he said. “We are looking eight years down the road. At that time, I really believe this is going to be the standard of care and have more widespread usage than it has now.”

In addition to oncology, there are already more studies beginning in the field of cardiology using this developing equipment, Cook said.

“The indications for this are broadening every day, so I think eight years from now this will be an integral part of nuclear medi­cine/radiology,” he said. “We are excited at the potential to get a unit here in Corner Brook.”

Health Minister Susan Sullivan contradicted similar sentiments this week. The government has no intention to include a PET scanner or radiation unit in its plan for a new regional hospital in Corner Brook.

A PET scanner — a medical imaging device that uses isotopes and antimatter to produce three-dimensional scans of the human body — is expected to come online in the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. She said there is no justification for adding a second one in western Newfoundland.

The minister estimated there will be about 870 scans per year, including a need for about 170 in the western region.

Cook said those estimates are the absolute lowest numbers.

“They only reflect patients who are sent out of province at this point, which are going to be people who this is absolutely necessary for,” he said.

Due to the inconveniences of travel and other related issues, many people who should be availing of the scans don’t, Cook said.

A PET scanner was recently put in a hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., affiliated with a larger facility in Sudbury. Cook said there was a prediction of their numbers based on the patients from that region who travelled to Sudbury for a PET scan.

“Now that they have it up, they realize they are actually running twice as many patients through,” he said.

Cook said a scanner in Corner Brook could effectively serve the central/west region — an area from Grand Falls-Windsor to Port aux Basques, including the Northern Peninsula and Labrador.

Another issue is the attraction or availability of specialists to operate and maintain the scanner. Cook said the physicians required are already in Corner Brook, working in the already functional nuclear medicine department. He said there would be minimal training involved.

There are three nuclear medicine technicians at Western Memorial. He said one of those are already been trained in using PET scanngers, and there will soon be a vacancy for another, which likely will see somebody hired with PET training. If not, training could be provided for those who don’t have it, he added.

Cook said a medical physicist required for maintenance and inspection would only be required on a semi-regular basis, whereas the day-to-day control would go to the technologists. Since there would not be a cyclotron at the hospital, and isotopes would be shipped in, there would not be a need for engineers and associated positions.

That also raises a question about the price of such a machine. Sullivan has cited costs as high as $40 million, but Cook said that must include the cyclotron which is being shared between Health Sciences and Memorial University in

St. John’s. That — which he estimates to cost about $30 million — would not be required in western Newfoundland, where isotopes would be shipped in.

“To get a PET scanner, to get it installed, to get it up and running, is somewhere in the neighbourhood, all in, of $5 million to $7 million,” he said. “When you are looking at a hospital budget of, hopefully, a billion (dollars), I really don’t see why we wouldn’t put this in.”

 

The Western Star