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Cancer-treatment breakthrough

Diagnostic tool part of plan to cut waiting periods

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Manitoba doctors will be able to treat some forms of breast cancer five weeks sooner than they do now because of a new diagnostic tool unveiled on Tuesday.

The machine will eliminate the need to send away hundreds of tissue samples to Ontario each year for analysis.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald told a news conference at St. Boniface General Hospital Tuesday the new device will play an important role in a $40-million strategy, unveiled in June 2011, to reduce wait times for cancer treatment. The strategy, based on a British model, seeks to reduce the time from when a general practitioner suspects a patient has cancer to the beginning of treatment to under 60 days.

"This is a game-changer here in Manitoba for a very specific kind of breast cancer," Oswald said of the new molecular technology that will shrink the wait time to diagnose some of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer and dictate which drugs should be used in treatment.

Jim Slater, chief executive officer of Diagnostic Services of Manitoba (DSM), said the new diagnostic technology is the future in cancer-tissue analysis. "By bringing this state-of-the-art test home, we are able to provide high-quality testing procedures to assist in patient care and cut the wait time for results from six weeks down to approximately one week for the hundreds of Manitobans who (need it each year)."

The new machine, which cost $125,000, is used to conduct a secondary test following an initial diagnosis of breast cancer. In about 25 to 30 per cent of breast cancer cases, further testing is required to detect and analyze a specific protein called HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor) to identify which treatment would be the most effective. That testing will now all be done in Winnipeg.

The diagnostic device unveiled Tuesday received regulatory approval in 2012. DSM purchased the technology and its staff underwent intensive training over nine months before the machine came into service earlier this year.

Quick, accurate diagnostic tests are crucial to the patient -- and cost-effective for the taxpayer.

Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, president and CEO of CancerCare Manitoba, said a drug used to treat one aggressive form of breast cancer can cost up to $60,000 to administer. "So you really do not want to give it to those who will not benefit," he said.

Meanwhile, Oswald also announced the province will begin this year to convert its 20 analog mammography machines -- including two mobile ones -- to digital technology. This will speed testing and make it easier for doctors to consult with specialists. Officials did not have a cost estimate for the new mammography machines on Tuesday.

The Opposition Tories said it's about time the province adopted the new digital technology. "We have been calling on this NDP government to introduce digital mammography in Manitoba for six years," Conservative health critic Cameron Friesen said.

"While other provinces began embracing this new technology years ago, our health minister allowed Manitoba to lag behind," he said, adding Manitoba is the last province to introduce digital mammography in breast cancer screening programs.

Each year, more than 6,100 Manitobans are diagnosed with cancer. Up to 10 times that number are suspected of having cancer and undergo testing before it is ruled out.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 A4

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