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AHS cyclotron repairs continue

Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) cyclotron continues to be down as engineers work to get the machine back up and running.

AHS continues to source material from other provinces in order to provide as many PET/CT scans as possible. Urgent scans are continuing, and AHS is able to conduct about 70 per cent of its normal patient scan volume.

Positron emission tomography/computed tomography scans – or PET/CT for short – are an important diagnostic tool. They provide detailed images of cell function in the body and are used to diagnose many types of cancer, epilepsy and dementia, as well as check if a disease is regressing or if treatment is working.

The scans are carried out at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, and the University of Alberta Hospital and Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.

PET/CT scanners require a material called fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) in order to carry out scans. This material is produced daily in Edmonton in a large machine called a cyclotron.

On September 28, the cyclotron suffered a mechanical breakdown, causing an eight-day shutdown. Alberta Health Services (AHS) sourced FDG from other provinces in order to address urgent cases - but it was not enough to do all scheduled scans; about 180 patients had their scans rescheduled.

On October 14 it suffered a second mechanical breakdown linked to the first shutdown, and is expected to remain down for at least another seven to 10 days, until November 9 at the earliest. As of October 30, 176 patients were waiting to be rescheduled, and another 388 had not been given an initial appointment date for a PET/CT scan.

The cyclotron is a complex device that requires significant precision of parts placement. The repairs require significant testing with no allowable margin of error. The repair work is also occurring in a radioactive environment, and workers are limited to the amount of exposure they can incur, which is a factor in the time it is taking for repairs.

Once the cyclotron is repaired, we anticipate being able to clear the backlog of patients in three to four weeks by operating into the evenings and on weekends.

In the meantime in Calgary, we continue to perform approximately 13 scans a day (normally we can perform 19). In Edmonton, we are able to perform approximately 23 scans a day (normally 30) using FDG sourced from out of province.

AHS sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience these delays have caused to patients and their families. We know this is causing stress and anxiety and we are doing all we can to fix it. Some scans continue to be done; decisions are made based on clinical acuity. Patients with higher acuity will have their scans done first.

We have been contacting all affected patients to reschedule appointments. We are aware that some patients have already had their scans rescheduled twice, and apologize for that; sites are taking steps to ensure that, where possible, patients are not rescheduled a third time. AHS will proactively reimburse out-of-town patients for travel and accommodation costs incurred due to rescheduled appointments.

We are doing everything we can to fix the cyclotron and have it up and running as soon as possible. All PET/CT are being rebooked to take place as soon as possible and are scheduled according to urgency as determined by our radiologists. Scans are being performed on weekends in order to accommodate more patients.

The mechanical issue with the cyclotron only affects PET/CT imaging, which is one specialized test. All other scans, including regular CT scans, are not affected and appointments will be held as scheduled. AHS will contact any patient prior to a postponement of a PET/CT scan.

Patients awaiting a PET/CT scan who have questions or concerns can call the Diagnostic Imaging location where their appointments were originally scheduled:

  • Foothills Medical Centre: 403-944-1601
  • University of Alberta Hospital: 780-407-7452
  • Cross Cancer Institute: 780-432-8465

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