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NEWS

THE GAZETTE
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Quebec to add 10 PET scans by 2007; Goal of the plan is to provide cancer patients with timely access to machines: Couillard

By Aaron Derfel

The Quebec government yesterday announced a multi-million- dollar investment in the latest diagnostic technology after being accused last January of under funding medical imaging in hospitals.

The goal of the plan is to provide cancer patients with timely access to PET scans, Health Minister Philippe Couillard said. At present, four hospitals in Quebec are equipped with PET machines.

By 2007, the number will increase to 14, which would place Quebec ahead of all other provinces in PET technology.

"This will improve the investigation and follow-ups of patients, and that means there will be a definite impact on waiting lists," Couillard said at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.

He noted the incidence of cancer is increasing by three per cent 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.

PET is a unique medical-imaging technology because it reveals the chemical functioning of organs and tissues. By comparison, X-rays, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging show anatomical structure.

This makes a PET scan good at detecting many forms of cancer, especially shadowy malignancies of the lung. With a PET scan, surgeons sometimes don't have to perform exploratory lung-cancer surgery.

In other cases, patients might not have to undergo extra cycles of chemotherapy if a follow-up PET scans shows the cancer has been eradicated.

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, praised the government plan as forward-thinking.

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

Still, even with 14 PET machines, Quebec would lag behind Belgium, which has 24 for a smaller population of 6 million.

In January, 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 noted.

He predicted the expansion of PET machines in hospitals will lead to the bankruptcy of a couple of private PET centres in Quebec.

Couillard also reported the government has reduced wait lists for radiotherapy from 10 weeks to four.

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