Cancer Treatment Tailored to You

There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to dealing with cancer, however, medical isotopes could be the key to providing personalized care.

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“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.

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Dr. Sandy McEwan is currently the Chair of the Department of Oncology at the University of Alberta and has been a member of the faculty since 1986. He is also the Medical Director of the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. In addition, he served as a special advisor to the Health Minister during the medical isotopes shortage in 2009. Dr. McEwan received his medical training at the University of London. Over the last 25 years, he has become an international leader in the field of nuclear medicine and developed the largest radioisotope therapy program in Canada.

Dr. McEwan is a member of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine, the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the European Association of Nuclear Medicine and the World Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Council. He is also the past president of the Board of Directors for the Society of Nuclear Medicine.