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Two-in-one test eases medical procedures

HOLYOKE When it comes to medical procedures, the fewer the better for patients. When new technology comes along that combines two tests into one, the staff at Holyoke Medical Center made sure they had it.

The GE Discovery ST PET/CT system is the latest in imaging technology and provides multiple benefits for both patients and physicians. The system is a state of the art combination of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans and Computed Tomography (CT) scans that can produce the most accurate scanning images available today.

PET scans look at the metabolic information in areas of the body while CT scans produce the anatomical images of organs and tissue. Before this new technology, patients would have to undergo two separate tests at two different times to get both sets of images.

But along with combining both tests into one visit, the Discovery ST PET/CT system also allows doctors to view both sets of scans together. The system fuses the two images to form a single image that shows the anatomical location from CT along with the metabolic activity of PET.

"In the past they'd have to do the PET scan and the CT scan separately," Mike Zwirko, vice president for outpatient services at Holyoke Medical Center, said. "It was cumbersome for the patient. Now they can get two pictures at once and use them together."

This combined image can provide more information in a much shorter period of time, which can then lead to more efficient and accurate diagnoses as well as better treatment planning and monitoring of how well the treatment is working.

For patients, along with providing a single test where multiple tests would have been needed before, the system is also more comfortable. The large, bore tunnel means less claustrophobia for some patients as well as easier positioning for larger patients. The short tunnel length also helps with these issues.

But more importantly, the system allows doctors to see cancerous malignancies earlier and identify tumor location with pinpoint accuracy. It also means doctors can more readily differentiate between malignant and benign tumors and see more accurately if malignant cells have metastasized.

Studies have shown that the PET/CT system has an average of 98 percent accuracy in classifying tumors, much better than the 70 percent average accuracy rate for CT alone, or the 90 percent average accuracy for PET alone.

The Discovery ST PET/CT system also provides more accurate monitoring of treatments.

"When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, there is a range of treatments and one size doesn't fit all," said Jim Suprenant, HMC's Radiology manager. "So you want to see if the treatment chosen is working and you don't want to wait until the end of treatment to know that. This technology helps physicians see if it's working and make adjustments as they go along."

Because the machine can pinpoint tumors and cellular activity with such accuracy, it can help guide the delivery of various cancer treatments whether they be surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

But beyond cancer patients, the system can also aid diagnoses of cardiovascular problems and brain disorders. For cardiovascular patients, some angioplasties will no longer be necessary because doctors are able to identify blockages and flow troubles non invasively. Physicians will also be able to view inside stents and clearly view activity within the heart.

The mobile system, which will initially be available one day a week at HMC, will also allow doctors to diagnose Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease earlier than ever before. Diagnoses are more accurate and doctors can easily see the differences between Alzheimer's and other types of dementia or depression. The technology also helps doctors differentiate between Parkinson's disease and other types of tremors.

For further information call 534-2523.