In the past three days, Nguyen Dinh Hung, living in Binh Chanh District in HCMC, had to visit many hospitals around the city to find a place to take PET/CT scans for his mother, a patient suspected of having stomach cancer. At first, Hung went to HCMC Oncology Hospital, but the hospital said that it no longer had any radiopharmaceuticals to operate its scanner. Hung took his mother to Military Hospital 175 and then People's Hospital 115, but these two places also turned him down because their machines stopped working.
Dr. Nguyen Trieu Vu, Head of the Oncology Department of Thu Duc City Hospital, said that the general situation of many cancer patients, who have been ordered to have PET/CT scans in HCMC, is to wait. Because CT and MRI scans do not provide clear results of cancers, doctors can only know the exact condition via PET/CT scan.
“PET/CT scanning does not apply to all cancer patients, but this technique helps detect metastatic lesions, assess response and risk of cancer recurrence, and is especially effective when evaluating difficult cases," said Dr. Nguyen Trieu Vu.
In HCMC, there are currently four hospitals equipped with PET/CT systems, including Cho Ray Hospital, People’s Hospital 115, Military Hospital 175, and HCMC Oncology Hospital. However, recently, the scanners of three of these four hospitals have had to suspend operations due to a shortage of radioactive materials. Only Cho Ray Hospital still has radioactive tracers to run its machine. As a result, patients at HCMC-based hospitals with PET/CT orders have flocked to Cho Ray Hospital. Meanwhile, the hospital can only handle about ten patients per day. Some patients accept to wait for a long time for their turns, but others have planned to go to Da Nang or Hanoi to perform this technique.
Meanwhile, some medical facilities in Hanoi, such as K Hospital, Military Hospital 108, and Hanoi Oncology, have PET/CT scanners for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Most of the PET/CT scanners at many hospitals in Hanoi are operating normally, with a large number of patients designated for scanning.
Early drug licensing to run the scanners
Explaining the shortage of radioactive materials for the operation of PET/CT scanners, a leader of HCMC Oncology Hospital said that the 18F-FDG radioactive materials of HCMC Oncology Hospital was supplied by a pharmaceutical company with its branch located in Thu Duc City. However, from the beginning of 2022 to now, this company has not been able to renew the drug registration certificate for circulation.
Deputy Minister of Health Tran Van Thuan said that the ministry had received information that PET/CT scanners for cancer diagnosis and treatment at hospitals in HCMC had to temporarily suspend operations due to the lack of radioactive materials. The MoH has directed and urged competent units to take measures to prevent shortages of drugs, chemicals, and equipment to serve patients and, at the same time, ensure clarity and transparency. While waiting for the radioactive materials to be licensed and imported into Vietnam, the MOH has been considering the option of Cho Ray Hospital sharing radioactive tracer with other hospitals in the city.
In the long term, experts believe that, when investing in PET/CT scanners, hospitals need to take into account investment in the radioactive material generators to minimize the risk of expensive PET/CT scanners being frozen as currently.
Do not abuse PET/CT scanning
According to oncologists, people need to properly understand screening for early detection of cancer and the role of PET/CT scanning because not every case that wants to diagnose and detect cancer early needs to have a PET/CT scan. In order to diagnose and detect cancer early, patients should initially check with common techniques, such as blood and urine tests, abdominal ultrasound, chest X-ray, and electrocardiogram.