Doha, 27 Feb. 2022: Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) announced the commencement of Nuclear Treatment of tumors following the opening of the first Radiopharmaceutical Laboratory in in the country.
The new laboratory, located at HMC’s National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR), will provide cancer patients with diagnostic and therapeutic care locally, saving these patients the need to travel abroad for this type of care.
Dr. Maryam Al Kuwari, Senior Consultant Radiologist and Chief Radiologist at Hamad Medical Corporation, stated that the new Radiopharmaceutical Laboratory undertakes the preparation of radiation drugs used for diagnosing and for nuclear treatment of tumors. These drugs are safely prepared in conformance with international standards where doses are meticulously calculated to suit the types of tumors and the needs of patients. Drug doses are subject to quality control checks prior to administrating them to patients, Dr. Maryam Al Kuwari explained.
“The nuclear treatment of tumors is based on radioactive drugs which target and destroy cancerous cells without affecting normal or healthy surrounding cells. This technique is a highly effective option to treat malignant thyroid, hepatic, prostate, and endocrine tumors. These therapeutic drugs are isotopes combined with biological molecules that target cancer cells within the human body. Following the diagnostic process, therapeutic drugs are prepared by a highly trained team. Similar laboratories will be established across HMC facilities in the future to meet patient needs in the country,” Dr. Maryam Al Kuwari explained.
Nuclear medicine therapy is an approach to treating cancer that might be used with or after other treatment options, such as chemotherapy and surgery. It won't usually lead to a cure unless combined with other therapies. But for many people it will control symptoms and shrink and stabilize the tumors, sometimes for years. Nuclear medicine therapy is sometimes the best option for people who no longer respond to other treatments.
HMC’s Nuclear Medicine unit, which is part of the Clinical Imaging Department, continues to introduce state of the art technologies with the aim of expanding and bringing healthcare services provided to patients in Qatar on par with those offered worldwide. An example of the latest technologies utilized at the unit is the introduction of the 2nd Positron Emission Tomography - Computed Tomography, better known as (PET-CT).
Clinical research has shown that PET-CT diagnostic approach is far more effective than conventional scanning as it helps healthcare professionals differentiate malignant tumors from benign ones, thus enabling them to determine tumor stages, how far cancer cells are spread, and how these cells respond to treatment whereby these professionals would be able to develop the appropriate treatment plan. Radioactive glucose is considered is one of the most common drugs used in the diagnosis of tumors.
The 2nd PET-CT has helped reduce patients wait time and allowed performing tests in a timely manner. More than 25 tests can now be performed daily at the unit. The introduction of such advanced healthcare services is indicative of HMC’s commitment to providing world-class care, bearing in mind that nuclear medicine is an integral part of clinical imaging and plays a vital role in the diagnosis and early detection of disease.
Dr. Haya Al Meraikhi, Consultant of Diagnostic Radiation for Breast Cancer at HMC, stated that the Nuclear Medicine unit has introduced other state of the art diagnostic modalities such as Positron Emission Mammography (PEM). This first of a kind tool in Qatar is licenced by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and helps diagnose early-stage breast cancer as well as the remission of the condition after surgery and radiotherapy. Compared to conventional mammogram, PEM is more effective in screening young women for breast cancer as the diagnosis can be more difficult due to breast tissue density. It also provides more conclusive test results revealing tumors even less than 1 cm in size.
PEM modality is ideal for patients who cannot undergo Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) due to reasons such as Claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), having pacemakers implanted, or allergic to MRI contrast dye. The use of PEM depends on the condition of the patient upon consultation with the attending oncologist. The PEM modality can produce a 3D high-resolution image that is 80% clearer than that produced by conventional mammogram. Unlike MRI, PEM pinpoints the exact location of cancer cells thus ridding patients the inconvenience of unnecessary biopsies otherwise needed for the screening process, Dr. Haya Al Meraikhi added.
Dr. Ali Barah, Senior consultant and Deputy Head of Interventional Radiology at HMC, stressed the role of interventional radiology in the diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant tumors through small incisions where guided fine catheters and visualizing equipment are used to inject chemotherapy or radiotherapy drugs in the affected area without having to recourse to invasive surgery. This methodology mitigates side effects and minimizes over exposure to the chemical drugs. The Interventional Radiology option is advisable when tumors exceed 3cm in diameter or when there are more than 3 tumors (multicentric tumors) exist in one body organ, such as the liver.
Tumors less than 3cm in diameter can also be treated either by cryotherapy – better known as Cryoablation - or by high frequency thermotherapy (High frequency Deep Heat Therapy), particularly tumors in the liver, kidneys, and bones. For treatment with Cryoablation, a fine needle is guided by a CT or other visual device to the locate the tumor in the organ and destroy the cancer cells by freezing them under extremely low temperature.
For tumors larger than 7cm in diameter, which are common in organs like the liver, and cases where procedures using ordinary catheters are too hard to perform, treatment can be administered using a method known as Internal Radiotherapy (one of Interventional Radiology modalities) where a radioactive agent (Yttrium 90) is injected in the tumor area. This agent then releases BETA rays which, in turn destroy malignant cells. One hundred and twenty cancer patients have been treated with Internal Radiotherapy since the inception of this technique at HMC, 40 of which were in 2021.
The Interventional Radiology unit comprises a team of 4 consultants, one specialist, and three interns. Four catheter laboratories, located at Hamad General Hospital, Ambulatory Care Center, National Center for Cancer Care and Research. Each of these laboratories is equipped with an imaging unit and a CT system for biopsies and sampling.