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Cancer Scanning In NZ Takes A Big Leap Forward

Media release
24 April 2008

Cancer Scanning In New Zealand Takes A Big Leap Forward

On Monday (28 May) the newest PET/CT scanner in Australasia will be officially unveiled in Wellington.

Just two years ago the potentially life-saving scan was not available in New Zealand but that changed with the commissioning of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET/CT) scanner at Wakefield Hospital in January 2006 by Pacific Radiology.

To improve the quality and increase its ability to provide this service, Pacific Radiology has now purchased another leading technology scanner for $2.5million. The new full ring scanner provides much greater capacity, faster scanning and more detailed images, and with 64 CT slices, probably the best PET/CT scanner in Australasia.

The initial provision of this service, and now the purchase of this new scanner, has brought even better news for New Zealand. Cyclotek has been encouraged enough to announce that it will set up production of the isotope needed to identify the active cancer cells in New Zealand, as well as Australia, making the scan cheaper and far more readily available.

With an ordinary CT scan a radiologist can identify a tumour mass but not determine if the cells comprising it are cancerous. PET scans can show whether a tumour is an active cancer or just scar tissue.

Dr Trevor FitzJohn, chairman of Pacific Radiology, who worked for nearly a decade to overcome financial and logistical obstacles to introducing this technology to New Zealand, said: “This more accurate diagnosis means doctors can plan better, more appropriate treatment for their patients. Potentially it can save patients’ lives and avoid unnecessary distressing and expensive treatment for patients who cannot be cured.

Research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute in Melbourne shows that 75 percent of PET scans affect patients’ treatment - downstaging (20 percent), upstaging (40 percent), location of secondary tumours (5 percent), and incidental findings such as degenerative bone disease (10 percent).

Until 2006 New Zealanders needed to go to Australia for this treatment. However, it is important to know that the purchase of the first PET/CT scanner was only part of the solution. A $5 million machine, known as a cyclotron, which produces the radioactive isotope (FDG) that identifies the active cancer, was also needed.

The creative solution to this problem was to import the isotope from Australia. However, because the isotope loses half its strength each 109 minutes, efficient transportation was essential.

“We worked closely with Qantas and Customs and Air New Zealand Cargo staff, all of whom have been enormously supportive and helpful. The Wellington Airport staff are a dream to work with and Wakefield Hospital’s closeness to the airport valuable time is saved, we can scan up to 2 extra patients a day when compared to say Auckland on these benefits alone,” Dr FitzJohn said.

Dr FitzJohn leaves nothing to chance, often picking up the precious isotope at the airport personally and having it fast-tracked through Customs.

The volume of scanning that is now done at Wakefield Hospital by Pacific Radiology has now resulted in Cyclotek announcing it is going to set up production of FDG in Wellington.

“It has been very much a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, because our decision to expand the service has been encouraged by the Cyclotek announcement, which will ensure for us a continuing and increasing supply of FDG which is needed for the rapidly increasing workload,” Dr FitzJohn says.

“The benefits of this local production are twofold: one, it will reduce the cost of scanning, given that a significant portion of the cost is due to the trans-Tasman transportation of FDG; and secondly, Cyclotek will be capable of supplying other New Zealand operations from its Wellington base. We see this stimulating PET/CT scanners in Auckland, Christchurch and other centres.

“This is an enormously valuable diagnostic tool. We believe that it should be available to anyone who could benefit from it.”

We are proud to be based in Wellington where anything is possible.


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