Group of radiologists raise money for new technology critical for Nova Scotia cancer patients

QEII Radiologists were able to raise money for a new PET-CT scan. Nova Scotia Health Authority

A group of radiologists, in collaboration with the QEII foundation in Halifax and the government, were able to purchase a new cancer imaging technology that is reducing waiting times and providing more accurate cancer diagnoses for patients.

According to the foundation, PET-CT scan is a diagnostic tool that helps determine the stage and spread of many cancers. PET-CT guides critical decisions for patient care — whether that means additional testing, treatment or surgery.

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The foundation, which helps fund new technologies and medical research, said in a statement that QEII Radiologists tripled all donations to the QEII Foundation’s PET-CT campaign, to a total of $50,000. This was a total impact of $150,000 — completing the fundraising campaign, which totaled $600,000.

“I guess in large part (we donated) because we understand the importance of it. It’s a really important tool for helping to diagnose patients. We’re members of the community, too, and we want to contribute to Nova Scotia having access to the best technology there was,” said Dr. James Clarke, chief of diagnostic imaging for the Central Zone at the Scotia Health Authority.

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Dr. James Clarke.

Clarke was one of the radiologists who participated in the fundraising. He said Nova Scotia had an older PET-CT scan for just under 12 years, and it was getting to the point where it was breaking down, so it was a little bit of a time pressure to raise some funds and get a new one.

“We were having to cancel appointments, which can be devastating for the patients who are traveling and trying to get a diagnosis.”

The benefits of the new PET-CT scan includes providing critical insight for many cancers with unprecedented image quality, and improved access to care — with average wait time reduced from seven weeks to two weeks.

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According to Clarke, radiologists are typically scanning patients every 15 minutes rather than every 25 to 30, so almost cutting the scan time in half.

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“We can actually go lower than that if we need to for support of special patients,” Clarke said.

He also noted that with the old scanner they scanned 13 patients a day, but now they’re routinely doing up to 18 a day since April of 2020 when the scan was first introduced.

The new scanner also proved effective during COVID-19 when Newfoundland and Labrador experienced a shortage of a radioactive substance called FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose), which is used for the PET-CT scan.

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According to Clarke, Newfoundland and Labrador have their own PET-CT program, but the radioactive substance that gets used is very short-lived, disappearing every two hours.

“They were getting their radioactive sugar flown in from Toronto. And with COVID-19, the commercial flights from Toronto to Newfoundland stopped. And so they lost access to their sugar. So almost overnight, they were going to be forced to shut down their program,” said Clarke.

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He said with COVID-19 running around, it would be very concerning for patients in Newfoundland to travel to Halifax to get a scan, so the radiologists in Halifax stepped up to help.

Clarke said that the new scanner uses less radioactive sugar than the previous one, so they were able to ship it to Newfoundland.

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“Because our new scanner is so good, we didn’t need as much of the stuff that we were making locally, so within two weeks of them asking for help, we shipped our first batch over to Newfoundland so they can keep their PET program going,” he said. “And we still have enough left over with our new scanner that we could deal with the patients that we had locally in Nova Scotia.”

QEII’s radiologists are now moving on to their new fundraising campaign to bring two brand-new interventional radiology suites to the QEII.

“From removing a blood clot in stroke patients to inserting a central line for dialysis, these suites are the backbone for many departments at the QEII – from heart health to cancer care and beyond,” said the QEII Foundation.

The team of radiologists have decided to to match all gifts to the interventional radiology suites up to $200,000, until December 31, 2020.

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People can donate here, and join in the effort.

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