Landmark Study Expands PET Scan Coverage

May 05, 2006

Beginning Monday, May 8, PET and PET/CT scans for virtually every type of cancer will be covered for Medicare beneficiaries, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) works with researches who are creating a new registry designed to determine the effectiveness of PET scans in helping to diagnose and treat cancer.

The University of Rochester Medical Center’s University Imaging at Science Park, the region’s only permanent PET/CT facility with adjacent cyclotron, will participate in the National Oncologic PET Registry (NOPR), joining more than 600 facilities nationwide.

“This study is long overdue. On a daily basis, we see how oncologists are able to accurately stage many types of cancers and also adjust their treatment plans based on the information provided by a PET/CT scan,” John Strang, M.D., director of University Imaging at Science Park, said. “We also realize that PET/CT scans are not appropriate for all types of cancers. By creating a national registry, the nation is pooling its collective resources so that in a relatively short period of time, we will know exactly when PET is most appropriate.”

PET, or Positron Emission Tomography, is a test that images the molecular activity of cells to show differences between healthy and diseased tissue.  In just five years, it has become an essential tool to accurately diagnose and stage cancer and track the progress of chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Prior to this study, only nine of the more than 200 different malignancies were eligible for reimbursement by Medicare for PET scans. But as of May 8, Medicare will cover PET scans for essentially all types of cancers including, but not limited to, brain, cervical, small cell lung, pancreatic, testicular, and ovarian cancers, so that many more Medicare beneficiaries can realize the potential benefits of PET/CT.

Richard I. Fisher, M.D., director of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, applauds the new study, saying, “PET scans are an extremely useful tool in helping us stage and plan treatment for some types of cancers. With this expanded coverage, we have the opportunity to explore how PET can help us treat all types of cancers.”

The power of the PET scan lies in its ability to find subtle pockets of cancers, according to Daniel Lee, M.D., associate director of University Imaging at Science Park.

“Just this morning, I reviewed a PET scan of a patient with a lymphoma in the tonsil,” Lee recounted. “The CT showed very subtle and previously unknown abnormalities in the pelvis that would have been missed without PET.  The PET scan may have identified an additional lymphoma, which would change the lymphoma treatment plan, or a different kind of tumor.  Either way, this patient’s management will be affected in a significant manner.”

To participate in the registry, referring physicians must complete and submit to NOPR researchers a short questionnaire before and after the PET scan.  The data will be analyzed to determine the impact of the PET scan on disease management and treatment.  Informed consent from the patients is not required, however patients or their referring physicians can opt out of the registry and still be scanned.

For more information on the registry, call University Imaging at Science Park at 785-5000 or visit www.cancerpetregistry.org

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