The Aroostook Medical Center is spending $1.5 million on a new positron emission tomography scanner as part of an effort to offer comprehensive cancer treatment in the region.
A new General Electric PET/CT nuclear imaging scanner is set to open next spring at TAMC and will be a more local option for the estimated 300 Aroostook County cancer patients who travel to Bangor each year to have a PET scan, which uses a radioactive tracer to locate and track tumors.
“We will now be able to locally offer the standard for cancer evaluation and ongoing staging of treatment,” said Sylvia Getman, CEO of TAMC, a part of Eastern Maine Health Systems. “It’s an essential component of the whole comprehensive cancer center we’ve put together,” she said, noting TAMC’s new linear accelerator radiation treatment and healing garden.
PET scanners were adopted along with other imaging technologies during the 1990s and 2000s. Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor opened one in 2003. Today it’s a standard tool for physicians, especially for cancers of the lung, head, neck, gastrointestinal tract and lymphomas, said Dr. Arjun Sood, TAMC’s lead oncologist.
“We see quite a bit of these cancers in The County every year,” he said. “A PET scan is an almost indispensable tool.”
It’s taken two years to bring the PET technology to TAMC in part because of the logistics of transporting the radioactive isotopes from Boston. TAMC officials plan to have the supply delivered twice a week, which will allow for a maximum of five patients to be tested on each of the two days. The rest of the time the equipment can serve as a computed tomography scanner, and is replacing an older CT machine.
The PET scanner will join a linear accelerator, which replaced an aging machine in September. The new linear accelerator uses computer-programmed intensity modulated radiation therapy to better treat some cancers.
“It is an expensive test,” Randy Bacon, TAMC’s director of ancillary services, said of a PET scan. “I don’t know what our final charge will be.”
Medicare covers PET scans for a range of cancers, along with commercial insurance, although the bills for patients vary and can run into the thousands, as with other nuclear imaging tests.
Some New Brunswick or Quebec residents may also end up coming to TAMC and paying out of pocket for a PET scan, Bacon said. The province of New Brunswick does have two PET scanners, in Saint John and Moncton, but some residents avoid long wait times there by crossing the border into Maine and paying out of pocket for diagnostic tests like MRIs.
“We get a fair number of Canadian folks that come over for other imaging tests,” Bacon said.
Along with TAMC, other medical providers in The County have been focusing on cancer services to meet the incidence of the disease in an aging population. In Caribou, the Cary Medical Center recently renovated its chemotherapy area and oncology clinic.