“Cancer is not a single disease. Even cancers that arise in the same organ may behave very, very differently from one another. And so what we are learning is that we need to be able to characterize the cancer much better.”
Dr. Sandy McEwan, Chair of Oncology in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, is looking for better ways to image cancer using medical isotopes: radioactive tracers that seek out cancer biomarkers.
This is important because every cancer is unique. By getting a clear picture of each particular tumour, this approach allows cancer treatment to be personalized for each patient.
Moreover, medical isotopes can be used not only for imaging, but also for treatment.
“If you can deliver a very small amount of radioactivity directly into the tumour to take a picture, you can use the same targeting strategy to deliver a very large amount of radiation directly into the tumour to treat it – so it’s like radiating from the inside out,” McEwan explains.
Notably, the dual purpose of medical isotopes allows the tumour to be monitored throughout treatment to see if a patient is responding well, or if a different approach is needed. The detailed information acquired using this method allows us to match the right treatment and dose to each patient.
“I’m proud that we’ve built a very large program here at the University of Alberta,” adds McEwan. “We have the largest isotope therapy program – certainly in the country – and possibly on the continent.”
With that kind of scale and commitment, the cutting-edge research being performed there is certain to uncover more insights into the unique ways that each unique cancer can be treated.