A new piece of equipment at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., is speeding up critical treatment for some cancer patients.

The $150,000 diagnostic analyzer allows pathologists to detect a dangerous protein — called the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 — within days rather than weeks. Sometimes found on the surface of cells on cancerous tumors, the HER2 protein can cause cancer to grow more quickly.

According to research published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, amplification or overexpression of HER2 occurs in 15 to 30 per cent of breast cancers and 10 to 30 per cent of gastric and gastroesophageal cancers. The protein has also been detected in ovary, bladder, lung, colon and other types of cancers as well.

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Dr. Carolyn Shiau, regional medical director of laboratory medicine and pathology for Fraser Health, said the new analyzer will save Fraser Health from having to send breast cancer patient tissue outside of the region for specialized testing. The health authority sees some 1,500 new breast cancer patients each year, roughly 50 per cent of whom require the specialized testing.

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“This specialized testing helps us determine what would be the best treatment for your particular tumour,” Shiau explained.

“By having this answer by the time you visit your clinician for the first time — either your surgeon or your oncologist — that will allow us to make a treatment plan together with the patient so that we can move you through the system more quickly to get you back to your family.”

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According to the 2014 paper in the  National Library of Medicine, the introduction of HER2-directed therapies has dramatically influenced outcomes for breast, gastric and gastroesophageal cancer patients.

The Royal Columbia’s new equipment, called the Ventana BenchMark ULTRA, automates the testing process, allowing pathologists to interpret the results with a standard microscope.

Fraser Health thanked the Drive for the Cure Foundation, Sanjeev Garg and Seema Gar for making the analyzer purchase possible.

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