Supply Shortages of Radiopharmaceuticals Cause Delays in Cancer Diagnosis in Canary Islands
Patients in the Canary Islands are facing delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment due to supply shortages of radiopharmaceuticals. The archipelago, which relies on shipments from Madrid, has been experiencing disruptions in the delivery of these essential medical supplies.
Radiopharmaceuticals are used in PET-CT scans, a diagnostic tool for tumors and their stage. They must be injected into patients 50 minutes to one hour before the scan, but the time-sensitive nature of these doses has posed challenges to the healthcare facilities in the Canary Islands. The radiopharmaceutical called 18F-FDG has a limited life, with its radioactivity depleting rapidly over time. By the time the supplies arrive at the hospitals, more than 90% of their initial capacity has typically been lost.
The Canary Islands currently do not have a cyclotron, the machine used to manufacture radiopharmaceuticals. The dependency on Madrid for supply has caused significant disruptions in patient care when breakdowns or delays occur. In October, a breakdown in the Madrid cyclotron led to a halt in the supply of radiopharmaceuticals to the Canary Islands, resulting in the suspension of over 65 studies at the Hospital Insular de Gran Canaria.
Cancellations of PET-CT tests have been in the hundreds across the Canary Islands, leaving many patients in limbo. The waiting period for these tests has increased, leading to a delay in cancer diagnosis and potentially reducing therapeutic possibilities. Furthermore, the economic impact is significant, with each dose of radiopharmaceutical costing around 560 euros for hospitals in the Canary Islands, compared to 180 euros in mainland Spain.
Efforts to address this issue have been ongoing for over a decade. Talks of installing a cyclotron in the Canary Islands began in 2010, but the plans have not materialized. In May 2019, the government announced the acquisition of two cyclotrons for 2.2 million euros, but as of now, it remains uncertain when these devices will arrive.
Health professionals in the Canary Islands emphasize the urgency of acquiring a cyclotron to reduce dependency and ensure a steady supply of radiopharmaceuticals. The development of mid-range cyclotrons, which do not require a bunker installation, is seen as a feasible solution. These cyclotrons would cost around 3.5 million euros and could produce more than 30 doses per day at a significantly reduced cost of less than 100 euros per dose.
Nuclear Medicine, the branch of healthcare specializing in the use of radioactivity for diagnosing and treating diseases, plays a crucial role in cancer care. PET-CT scans provide valuable information about metabolic activity and help identify tumors and infections. The lack of a reliable and consistent supply of radiopharmaceuticals in the Canary Islands threatens timely and effective cancer diagnosis and treatment, underscoring the urgent need for a cyclotron in the region.