Radiologist says PET scanner to become standard of care in future

Cory Hurley
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Bob Cook is a radiologist in Corner Brook and says it is irresponsible not to include a PET scanner in the plans for a new regional hospital.

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, 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 to medical professions to continue working with current standards of practice and technologies, according to the doctor, 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.”

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

“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. Government has no intentions to include a PET scanner, or radiation unit, in its plans 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 to 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, the doctor said many people who should be availing of the scans don’t.

A radiation unit 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 the 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 debating point is the attraction or availability of specialists to operate and maintain the scanner. The doctor said the physicians required are already here, working in the already functional nuclear medicine department. He said there would be minimum training involved from a doctor standpoint.

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

The radiologist also said a medical physicist required for maintenance and inspection would only be required on a semi-regular basis, where as 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 used costs as high as $40 million, but Cook said that must be including 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 $5-7 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.”

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, Health Sciences and Memorial University

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie Port aux Basques Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Henry
    January 17, 2014 - 14:26

    Finally a health care professional who makes sense of this. Tom Marshall, Vaugh Granter pay attention the article has given the facts by a competent radiologist now stop with the political scrap. We need this teck in the new Now is the time not later or never.

  • SayWhat
    January 17, 2014 - 12:44

    To support Dr. Cook and others, from the Northern Ontario Medical Journal, June 2013. To quote about the situation in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario after having a pet scanner for two years. "Our patients are living longer." Need I say anymore.

  • Dizzy
    January 17, 2014 - 12:37

    All good points made for the PET scanner to be here. However, it seems like if we are taking away anything from St. John's then we won't get it here. I think the only reason a new hospital was even announced was because this was Danny's district.

  • jim day
    January 17, 2014 - 06:18

    i think the word "antimatter " may be a misprint . my understanding is that it has only been created in laboratory settings for a time of less then a nano second