Closure of Calgary cancer lab may affect local patients

The shutdown of cancer testing at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre lab may jeopardize some Central Alberta patients being treated for colon or lung cancer, says the lab’s former pathology director.

The shutdown of cancer testing at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre lab may jeopardize some Central Alberta patients being treated for colon or lung cancer, says the lab’s former pathology director.

Dr. Tony Magliocco said the Nov. 30 closure of the lab will jeopardize the care of patients in the region. Alberta Health Services says the change will actually improve services.

“Alberta cancer patients need specialized laboratory (services),” said Magliocco.

The Tom Baker Cancer Centre lab served more than 10,000 Alberta cancer patients. Patients affected will be those who need molecular testing to see if they need a certain kind of therapy. These are patients who have failed other treatments and have advanced disease. Perhaps about 100 people a year would fall in this category, Magliocco said.

“It’s quite a specialized test,” said Magliocco. “They’re looking for a DNA mutation in the tumour specimen and the Tom Baker lab ran that test for many years. They actually developed it.”

The Tom Baker was one of five labs across Canada that performed these kinds of tests.

The lab testing has since been transferred to Calgary Lab Services, which runs a gamut of lab testing for the community.

“What I do know is that the Calgary labs (at Calgary Lab Services) haven’t run these tests before so it’s going to be a challenge for them to take these tests up,” he said.

“I don’t know if they’re going to do it wrong, but I think there’s a risk simply because they don’t have the same kind of experience.”

Magliocco said the lab closure is far-reaching, affecting patients in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well.

Magliocco said he raised concerns about the closure to Alberta Health Services and later learned that his position would no longer be available to him, so he felt forced to leave. A lesser position was offered.

Magliocco has since accepted the head of pathology position at Moffitt Cancer Centre in Tampa, Fla.

Gjenna Saretsky, communications advisor for Alberta Health Services in Red Deer, said that this lab testing, known as clinical molecular pathology and immunohistochemistry, transferred on Dec. 1 to Calgary Lab Services, which is located at the Foothills Medical Centre, directly adjacent to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. This means no delay in testing, she said.

Consolidation of similar testing is also occurring in the Edmonton zone between the University of Alberta Hospital and Cross Cancer Institute.

“There is no closure of laboratory services and patient care will not be disrupted as a result of this transition,” said Saretsky. “The expectation is that quality overall will be improved.”

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

— copyright Red Deer Advocate