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Quebec government to invest $22 million in PET

The Quebec government has announced that it will acquire 10 more Positron Emission Technology (PET) scanners by 2007, bringing the total number of such machines in the province to 14.

That would place Quebec at the forefront of PET scanning in Canada.

With its major investment in PET technology, the Quebec government aims to dramatically boost the level of diagnostic care for cancer patients.

“This will improve the investigation and follow-ups of patients, and that means there will be a definite impact on waiting lists,” said Health Minister Philippe Couillard (pictured at left).

Dr. Couillard, a neurosurgeon before entering politics, noted the incidence of cancer is increasing by 3 percent each year in Quebec, largely because of the aging of the population. The government, therefore, must devote more resources to radiotherapy and medical imaging, he added.

Under the plan, Quebec will spend more than $9 million in the next year acquiring PET machines. It will also give hospitals more than $13 million a year to run the equipment.

Among the hospitals that will have operational PET machines next year are the Jewish General, Maisonneuve-Rosemont and Ste. Justine. In 2007, the government will install similar equipment in Chicoutimi, Gatineau, Rimouski and Trois Rivieres.

Francois Lamoureux, president of the Association des medecins specialistes en medecine nucleaire du Quebec, told the Montreal Gazette newspaper that the government’s plan is “forward-thinking”.

“This will have an enormous impact,” he said, adding the machines will also encourage more cancer research.

According to a report in the Gazette, in January 2005, the Quebec government was embarrassed by revelations that Hotel Dieu was selling PET scans to patients during off-hours. The government stopped the hospital, but doctors there complained that more than 400 patients were on wait lists of up to three months.

The wait list for a PET diagnosis now ranges from two to six weeks, Lamoureux said.

He said the expansion of PET machines in hospitals will put pressure on a couple of private PET centres in Quebec.

Unlike other forms of diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, which show the anatomical structure of body parts, PET reveals the metabolic functioning of organs and tissues.

Radioactive isotopes are injected into the bodies of patients. These radioactive tracers are absorbed at different rates by different parts of the body, depending on whether they’re fast-growing – as with tumours – or at a slower rate for damaged organs, such as hearts that have suffered an infarct.

Radiologists trained in PET are able to detect and stage cancers with great accuracy. The modality is also useful for cardiology and the detection of other diseases.