Sabah hospitals urged to have PET equipment
Published on: Wednesday, May 22, 2019
By: David Thien

KOTA KINABALU: Many affluent Sabahans still leave for Singapore or Kuala Lumpur for medical consultation or treatment because the State’s private and public hospitals lack Positron Emission Tomography (PET) equipment, according to one such patient who just returned from Singapore.

 A PET scan is a type of imaging test that helps doctors see how the organs and tissues inside a patient’s body are actually working. They are  used most often to detect cancer, heart problems, brain disorders and other central nervous system disorders.

 The surprising assertions by some patients and doctors were that there is no proper PET machine equipment or operator here so these patients had to get medical care or advice outside Sabah that needed a PET scan for doctors to diagnose their conditions.

 They urged the new State Minister in charge of Health and People’s Well-Being to get such needed medical equipment into Sabah, considering that only Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Baru are equipped with such devices in Malaysia.

 “KL, Penang and JB don’t even produce any oil and gas revenue to the federal coffers,” Christopher Chu, a patient, lamented.

 He said considering Sabah’s contributions to the national coffers, the State deserves up-to-date medical equipment. He has to continue his treatment in Kuala Lumpur due to the exchange rate of the weaker ringgit to the Singapore dollar.

 A top management figure of a leading private hospital with national wide presence confirmed that none are available in Sabah.

 If the state capital is to build an image as an internationally equipped medical tourism venue with high standards, a lack of PET scan equipment is not helping such ambition towards success, aside from the quality of medical professionals available here.

 A nuclear technician from the Likas Women and Children Hospital explained: “A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that uses a very small dose of a radioactive chemical, called a radiotracer, to help doctors see how the organs and tissues are working.

 “In a PET scan process, the radiotracer is injected into the vein of the patient’s arm. The tracer travels through the patient’s body and is absorbed by the organs and tissues that are being studied.

 “Then, 45 minutes after the injection, the patient is led to lie down on a flat examination table that is moved into the centre of a PET scanner, like a doughnut-shaped machine.

 “This machine detects and records the energy given off by the tracer substance. With the aid of a computer, this energy is converted into three-dimensional pictures.

 “A diagnostic doctor then study the cross-sectional images of the organ from any angle in order to detect any problems like cancer, heart problems (such as cornorary artery disease and damage to the heart after a heart attack), brain disorders (including brain tumours, memory disorders, and seizures), and other central nervous system disorders.”

 According to a consultant physician, PET scan can be used to measure vital functions such as blood flow, oxygen use, and glucose (blood sugar) metabolism to help doctors identify organs and tissues that are not working properly, besides detecting tumour cells for initial cancer staging (classification).

 The results can also use to evaluate how well a patient's treatment plan is working, allowing the care to be adjusted, if necessary.

 A retired radiologist explained that one of the main differences between PET scans and imaging tests like a computer tomography scan (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is that the PET scan reveals metabolic changes in an organ or tissue earlier – at the cellular level.

 “This is important and unique because diseases often begin with functional changes in the cells. 

A PET scan can often detect these very early changes, whereas a CT or MRI detect changes a little later, as the disease begins to cause changes in the structure of organs or tissues,” he stressed on the importance of early detection and disease prevention as promoted by the government to cut down on high costs of medical treatment, medicine and loss of the country’s productive manpower time due to illness.


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