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Medical firm’s ‘PET’ helps in fight against cancer

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

It’s usually not a happy day when someone has their picture taken at one local medical firm. But a recent study has suggested that FDG-PET scans taken at Advanced Medical Imaging (AMI) in Silverdale is helping doctors across the country in the fight against cancer.

FDG-PET, short for fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography, is a technique of scanning a body for cancer that involves injecting a patient with a radioactive isotope that attaches itself to cancerous cells. Once a scan is taken, doctors are able to get a clearer view of where cancerous tissue is in someone’s body.

Recent data from the National Oncologic PET Registry (NOPR) found that PET scanning helped doctors change their care plans for one in three patients nationwide.

“That was the critical one,” AMI Administrator Kurt Newcomer said of NOPR’s study. “They were looking to see, ‘did this make a difference?’”

The study was published online in the March 24 edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

AMI is just one of more than 1,200 facilities in the county participating in the NOPR.

The study began in 2006 as a way to help decide which types of cancers should be covered by Medicare and Medicade services. The study combines patient questionnaires filled out before and after PET scans to determine if the scans helped and if they changed a doctor’s intended care plan for a particular patient.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) covers PET scan reimbursement for a handful of cancers, including ovarian, uterine, prostate, pancreatic, stomach, kidney and bladder.

“Essentially what NOPR does is expand that list to virtually any cancer, with the required reporting,” Newcomer said.

The study analyzed more than 23,000 patients in the country, according to a news release from AMI.

PET scans are pretty commonly used in the medical world to perform scans of the body, but the current study as applied to Medicare and Medicaid coverage could be key in helping cancer patients in particular.

“I think it’s a great program because it’s the only way you’re ever going to expand the utilization of (PET scanning) to help people who have cancer,” Newcomer said.

The specifics of PET scanning can get pretty complicated, but the basics are pretty easy to grasp. A radioactive isotope — fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), in this case — is injected into a patient and attaches itself to cancer cells. A patient undergoes a PET scan, which detects the isotope and highlights its location in the body in the image that’s produced. Usually, a CT scan is superimposed on the PET scan, as well, to give a three-dimensional view of the patient. This allows doctors to see not only where cancerous cells are located, but also how deep.

“With three-dimensional imaging, we can slice and dice the body any way we want — electronically,” Newcomer said.

That, in turn, gives doctors a better idea of where cancerous cells are, how widespread they are and how best to proceed with treatment.

With the recent study results in hand, NOPR has formally asked CMS to end the requirements for data collection — patient questionnaires — and expand coverage for cancer patients, according to AMI’s news release.

If CMS goes along with NOPR’s suggestion, that could be good news for Medicare/Medicaid recipients and people covered by private insurance agencies, as well.

“Most other insurances will follow Medicare’s lead,” Newcomer said.

There is no current timetable for when CMS could come to such a decision.

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