Albany cancer study to be presented in Canada

Sam Belakhlef

Sam Belakhlef

ALBANY, Ga. -- Next month, representatives of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital will be in Canada presenting the results of a recent study done at the hospital to what is considered to be the largest international convention in the field of nuclear medicine.

Sam Belakhlef, assistant director of PET/CT imaging at the hospital, is set to present the results of a study concerning a compound recently approved by Medicare for diagnosing bone cancer at the annual Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging conference taking place June 8-12 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

"It is really our proudest moment," Belakhlef said of the opportunity to present the findings.

The compound, called fluorine 18 sodium fluoride -- or 18F-NaF -- was researched through a study performed in Phoebe's radiology department. It is a tracer that, when combined with the PET/CT (positron emission tomography-computed tomography) scanner, shows in detail the areas of the bones affected by cancer.

A description available from the National Cancer Institute website on the compound says that it allows visualization of malignant bone lesions in which regional blood flow and bone turnover are increased.

Officials say the result of this work quantitatively shows the positive predictive value, a means of measuring how accurate doctors are in predicting the presence of cancer in bones.

"It is actually a new compound not used until recently," Belakhlef said. "(It's been in existence since) 1972, but we didn't have the machinery then.

"It is a tremendous improvement from the old bones scans. It is a very sensitive scan."

The research was done in collaboration with Drs. Clifford Church and Suresh Lakhanpal -- both radiologists based at Phoebe -- and Dr. Chirag Jani, director of medical oncology at the Phoebe Cancer Center.

The study was conducted by doing 35 scans on 31 patients. All the scans were done to detect bone cancer, with other cancers included, over the course of nearly a year, Belakhlef said.

"We have probably just scratched the surface of these scans," he said. "...I was happily surprised (with the results of the study). I have seen things I have not seen before."

Belakhlef joined the department of radiology at Phoebe in 2005. He has had numerous publications under the hospital's banner, including one last year describing a novel approach to detecting cancer in the bladder using PET/CT, officials at the hospital say.

Statistics from the American Cancer Society show that about 3,010 new cases of bone cancer will be diagnosed in 2013, which will result in about 1,440 deaths. Primary bone cancers account for less than 0.2 percent of all cancers, the ACS says.