More Northwest Indiana hospitals hone attacks on cancer; better technology improving detection and treatment - December 21, 2018

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • December 21, 2018

Written by Giles Bruce

More local hospitals are investing in a technology they say helps better detect and treat cancer.

Franciscan Alliance and Porter Health Care System are the latest Northwest Indiana hospital groups to get new PET/CT scanners, which create color, multidimensional images of the body in cancer patients.

The Franciscan Health Cancer Center in Munster got one of the machines over the summer, while the Porter Regional Hospital Cancer Care Center in Valparaiso unveiled its new scanner Tuesday.

“It really is a game-changer for us,” said Dr. Jeffrey Quackenbush, a radiation oncologist affiliated with Porter Health Care System. “It doubles the cure rate for lung cancer … it shrinks the number of treatments … and it minimizes the damage to the healthy issue.”

He said the more comprehensive images from the machine will help him and his colleagues better target treatments.

For instance, the pictures can show how a tumor moves over time, like when the person is breathing. He plans to use the PET/CT scan to assist in so-called stereotactic body radiation therapy, which he said is more precise and has fewer side effects than traditional radiation.

Porter Health Care System previously had an older PET/CT scanner at a facility in Chesterton, but installed the new one at its Valparaiso cancer center, which company CEO Sean Dardeau said “is a comprehensive center now.”

“The goal of this is to give the community a one-stop shop for all their needs,” said Stojan Trajkovski, manager of imaging at the Franciscan Health Cancer Center in Munster.

The scanners use computed tomography (CT) along with positron emission tomography (PET) to create more detailed images than traditional CT machines, which combines X-ray technology with computer processing. With PET imaging, patients are injected with a small amount of radioactive material that are attracted to cancer cells.

The technology also is utilized to detect heart and brain disorders.

Community Healthcare System’s latest PET/CT machine is located at the Cancer Care Center of St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart. That scanner was purchased in spring 2017.

Methodist Hospitals has a CT machine at both the Gary and Merrillville campuses that produces 128 “slice” images. Those are 3-D cross-sections of the body (think slices of bread). The machines also have the ability to perform noninvasive, CT angiograms to diagnose cardiovascular diseases. Methodist also has whole-body, 64-“slice” VCT scanners at both campuses.

Experts note that PET/CT scans come with a small risk of radiation exposure but say the benefits outweigh the risks.

The machines aren’t cheap. Franciscan Alliance invested $2.2 million in the permanent PET/CT scanner in Munster, according to Robert Blaszkiewicz, a spokesman for the health system. Franciscan had previously used a mobile scanner in the area, but officials say the new, larger machine is better for patients who are claustrophobic.

To use the scanner, patients lie on a bed that can hold several hundred pounds. It moves under the CT scanner, then the PET part of the machine.

The scan is over in a matter of minutes, allowing the cancer centers to diagnose more patients per day.

And, Dr. Vivek Mishra, an interventional radiologist associated with Porter Health Care System, noted: “The images are gorgeous.”