Cancer Tests Cancelled Due to Nuclear Reactor Shutdown

December 5, 2007 · Print This Article · Email This Post

PET Scan, Nuclear Medicine

Tests to detect cancer in thousands of patients throughout Canada, the United States and other countries have been canceled because the Chalk River, Ontario nuclear reactor, which produces radioisotopes for more than two-thirds of the world’s nuclear medicine imaging, has been closed for repairs.


PET Scan of the Torso

The radioisotopes produced at the nuclear reactor are most commonly used in positive emission tomography (PET) scans to detect cancers including brain cancer, head and neck cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. They have a short shelf live and must be used almost immediately, once received in a testing center which has a PET scanner. The radioactive isotopes, usually in the form of low-dose radioactive sugar (glucose), are injected into a vein, with subsequent imaging producing some of the earliest diagnostic scanning results available. A PET scan typically yields results before physical abnormalities appear in a patient. Cancerous areas take up more radioactive material than does normal surrounding tissue, making the cancerous areas easy to spot with a PET scan.

The Chalk River facility was closed two weeks ago for maintenance and scheduled repairs, resulting in a nationwide shortage of the isotopes in Canada. But during the closure, it was discovered that there were more problems to repair than anticipated. According to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which owns the Chalk River facility, the reactor won’t be fully functional for another 10 days.

In Nova Scotia, about 150 seriously ill patients have had their PET scans cancelled in Halifax and Sydney this week, with Dr. Andrew Ross, a Halifax nuclear medicine specialist, saying that he’s cancelled tests on 100 patients and predicts he will have to cancel another 100 tests next week. Ross was quoted by the CBC as saying: “It’s an absolutely devastating turn of events for us…This is the first full-scale interruption that I have experienced in my 20 years of practice.”

Chalk River, Ontario Nuclear Reactor

Doctors are frustrated that there is no contingency plan in place, particularly since there are only a few producers of the radioactive isotopes in the world. For over 10 years, a government plan to construct two replacement reactors has been on hold. While the plans are complete, regulatory approval has not yet been received. Dawn Marie King, of Toronto’s University Health Network, commented: “Seeing as [how] this shortage is going on for longer than expected, there’s [sic] definitely going to be issues. We are held hostage by it, to be frank.”

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Photo credits: Dedicated Computing and the

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