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Year in review: Kelowna PET/CT provides specialized cancer care closer to home for residents in the Interior

The state-of-art PET/CT scanner has been has increased provincial scanning capacity for all British Columbians and completed close to 2,400 scans in its first year.
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The Ministry of Health officially opened BC Cancer’s fourth publicly funded PET/CT scanner, and first in the Interior, on August 19, 2020 as part of its provincial PET/CT expansion plan. Prior to opening, patients in Kelowna and surrounding areas had to travel to the Lower Mainland for their cancer-related PET/CT scans.

“I live in Kamloops and am delighted to be able to come to Kelowna for my PET scan.  Less travelling time and I have friends here to visit,” says Barbara, who came to BC Cancer – Kelowna for a PET/CT scan. “The PET scan was well done and the staff were very kind and helpful and put me at ease right away.” 

During opening, the new scanner was expected to provide more than 2,000 scans per year. In its first year, BC Cancer – Kelowna surpassed that by providing 2,473 scans. Patients living within the Interior Health region made up a majority of these scans. Of those who live in the Interior Health region, nearly half reside within 100kms of the centre. People living in other health authorities, most notably within the Northern Health catchment, have also received their scans at the Kelowna centre.

“Having this technology now in the Interior has been momentous for the community. There are so many patients we have heard from over the last year that would have never made the trip out to Vancouver for their PET/CT scan,” says Garrett Bichel, chief PET/CT technologist for BC Cancer – Kelowna. “The stress taken off these patients by having a scanner in their own backyard has brought some much-needed relief. It’s gratifying to know we are helping patients in our own little way by bringing this care closer to home to so many in need. The overall response from the people we serve has been overwhelmingly positive and humbling.”

PET/CT scanner at BC Cancer - Kelowna

A PET/CT scanner combines two different types of scans in one. It provides information on organ and tissue function (PET) and anatomical structure (CT), which means it can uncover the full extent of disease, aid in the accurate planning of radiation therapy, and determine the effectiveness of treatment by helping clinicians assess whether tumours have shrunk, grown, or spread to other parts of the body or have been eliminated.

The most commonly scanned cancer types at BC Cancer – Kelowna have been for lung cancers (36%), followed by lymphomas (16%), head/neck (13%), colorectal (7%), esophageal (5%), melanoma (5%), breast (3%), cervical (3%), and other (12%). 

“I’m incredibly proud of all the hard work from the imaging team in Kelowna. It is a big job opening a new centre from scratch, and they have performed amazingly,” says Bichel. “I would also like to thank everyone from the production, logistical, and booking teams that have made the new PET department in Kelowna run smoothly over the last year. There are far more people involved in this operation daily than most people would think.”

From November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, the team at BC Cancer – Kelowna coordinated air transportation for a radioactive tracer needed to complete PET/CT scans. These radiotracers are produced at a special facility in Vancouver and need to be delivered daily due to their short half-life. Securing air transportation meant more reliable access to the radiotracer as inclement weather can cause road closures during the winter months and would have impacted productivity. The staffing complement for the PET/CT scanner consists of ten full-time employees and four casual staff, which includes PET/CT technologists, booking clerks and nuclear medicine physicians (rotational).   

Extension of BC Cancer - Kelowna built to accommodate new PET/CT

The PET/CT scanner was provided, in part, with support from over 2,100 donors who contributed more than $5 million dollars through donations to the BC Cancer Foundation.

Watch this video to learn more about the BC Cancer – Kelowna PET/CT scanner. 

 
 
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