03 August 2006

New cancer scan in SA

Discovery Health will fund PET scans for certain oncology patients through an initial pilot project.

Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest medical aid scheme, will fund PET scans for certain oncology patients from 1 August, according to a press release from the company.

A PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) is a non-invasive diagnostic imaging procedure that allows the study of body function so it can help physicians detect alterations in biochemical processes that suggest disease.

This technique uses special computerised imaging equipment to capture images of the body’s function and reveals information about health and disease - particularly certain cancers. It is used to assess the staging of tumours and has the potential to monitor a patient’s response to therapy.

A unique imaging technique
“A PET scan is like no other imaging technique as it shows the internal chemistry of the body and hence gives a more comprehensive picture of certain diseases than other current diagnostic radiology scans," says Dr Jonathan Broomberg, Head of Strategy and Health Policy at Discovery Health.

A PET scan monitors metabolic or biochemical activities in the body by tracking the movement and concentration of a radioactive tracer (isotope) injected into the bloodstream.

“Another advantage is that, because the radioactivity is very short-lived, patients’ radiation exposure is low. The substance amount is so small that it does not affect the normal processes of the body.”

Only a pilot programme
“Whenever new technologies are introduced into the environment, we undertake rigorous clinical and financial evaluations prior to agreeing to fund these. This is consistent with international best practice, and is critical to the ongoing affordability and sustainability of South Africa’s medical scheme environment," he said.

“As part of this evaluation process, it is always our policy to work very closely with SA’s medical practitioners. In this case, we have been working intensively with the Radiology Society of South Africa (RSSA) and the South African Oncology Consortium (SAOC) on a process that would ensure that PET scans would be used for the appropriate patients, and in identified centres with the appropriate expertise. As a result of these discussions, we have agreed that we will run a pilot with a group of radiology practices for a specified group of oncology conditions, where the benefit of PET scans is clearly demonstrated," Broomberg said.

“This was decided as PET scans remain a new and revolutionary technology where there is still unfortunately limited documentation on the cost-effectiveness and outcomes," he said.

The pilot will run for a 12-month period from 1 August 2006 to 1 August 2007. If this proves successful, this approach may be expanded beyond the current radiology practices.

How a pet scan works
Compounds such as simple sugars exist in the body. These are labelled with radioactive tracers that emit signals. The compound containing the tracers is called an Isotope.

When a patient is having a PET scan, they will be injected intravenously with an isotope. The PET scanner records signals that the tracers in the isotope emit as they move through the body to specific targeted organs.

A computer will then reassemble the signals into images – these images show biological maps of normal organ function and failure of organ systems which indicates disease. – (Discovery)

Source: Press release from Discovery Health

Read more:
Cancer Centre
Medical Schemes Centre

August 2006


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