CT Scans – Catching Cancer Before You Even Have Symptoms

CT Scans – Catching Cancer Before You Even Have Symptoms

CT scan needed? At Mermaid Beach, there is a clinic which is the only private practice in Australia with new Spectral CT Scanner. Here’s what that means for you.

There is now a technology so innovative and disruptive, that it promises to turn medicine on its head. It is called Spectral CT and it is a revolution in the diagnosis game. This is the sharp edge of medicine.

The long name of the kit is the Philips IQon Elite Spectral CT. Or, Spectral CT for short. Mermaid Beach Radiology is the only private radiology clinic in all of Australia to have one. It can see inside you like no other machine on the market while having an ultra-low radiation dose. It can diagnose cancer you don’t even know you have, even before you feel sick.

Patient getting in Spectral CT
A patient getting a CT scan

Just when you think things couldn’t get better for patient care – in the room next door is the Philips Ingenia Elition 3.0T X wide bore research[1]grade MRI. There are only 3 of these top-of-the[1]line MRI machines in private practice in Australia (the other two are in Western Australia).

Entrepreneurial Minds at Work

Dr. Zane Sherif is the brilliant mind behind the futuristic clinic. He’s a radiologist with a passion for technology and what it can do in the medical field. Alongside his wife, Dr. Kirralee Sherif, who herself has a Ph.D. in Engineering, Zane has opened Mermaid Beach Radiology. They are hoping that people of the Gold Coast (and much farther afield) will understand just what a gift it is to have access to these cutting-edge machines. He said, “Our bar for machine selection was, ‘what would we want to have ourselves, our kids, our loved ones scanned on?’”

Spectral CT in its full glory
A glimpse of the CT scan machine

Zane tells us about a recent case of his. “A  patient came into use with a forearm issue. He’d been living with forearm pain for years and had seen multiple specialists. He was in relentless pain that no one was able to get on top of. He has been prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants and all sorts of things. Nothing worked. He had accepted that he may have to amputate his arm to gain relief. Finally, he found us.

“Ben Kennedy, the MRI Clinical and Research Director, did his magic and finally, the patient had a diagnosis. There was a problem with his radial nerve. The radial nerve in our arm goes through a little tunnel, just off the bone. For him, that tunnel was too tight and it was inflaming the nerve. But you could not see it on any other scan until now.

“Ben was able to get an entirely new view of the nerve. He could trace its path through that tunnel. He could see that the nerve was thicker and brighter, but only in the tunnel. So we knew that it was getting stenosed. Now that we knew the problem, we could treat it. Within hours, we injected the area with some Cortisone, and for the first time in years, the patient had no pain. The Cortisone shrinks down the swelling around the nerve and could last for years, if not forever. This kind of case isn’t unusual, it happens here on a daily basis.”

Rise of Spectral CT Scanners in Queensland

In South East Queensland, there are six Spectral scanners in public hospitals. The hospitals have a much bigger budget to purchase the near two-million-dollar machines. They always have to have the best diagnostic tools. But there’s a waiting list and you may only get to use it after you have run the gauntlet of lower-end machines. And usually, you need to be a hospital inpatient. By then, precious time has passed.

Then there’s the machine in Mermaid Beach Radiology, which is a private clinic. In all of the other radiology clinics in Australia, there are a grand total of zero Spectral CT scanners.

As a private business, Zane and Kirralee had to answer the business case for spending so much money on one machine. Says Zane, “This piece of machinery is 10 times the cost of some CT scanners. An entry-level CT scanner costs about $200,000. The Spectral CT costs nearly two million dollars. But this machine takes a  massive leap when it comes to diagnostic power. It is like comparing the phone that you used 15 years ago to the one you’re using now. We  took a gamble because the medical community needs to do better for patients.”

Zane said that he wanted to move to Spectral CT technology when he worked for other radiology companies. “I was literally laughed out of the building. And yet… this machine is an absolute diagnostic monster. I wanted my patients to have access to this. So I said, right, I’ll buy it myself.”

And Mermaid Beach Radiology was born. Zane says the Spectral CT images give the radiologists diagnostic confidence in what we are seeing. “A lot of the time you might see something on a lower-end machine, and you really have no idea what it is. However, with the Spectral CT, we have more diagnostic confidence. The images are just far superior to what’s out there. I’m not saying we can answer every question, but we have the best tools known to science to help answer the more complex medical dilemmas.

Importance of High-Quality Scanners

“It does not matter how good a radiologist is if their tools are poor. If you’re looking through foggy glasses, all you’re going to see is fog. They could be an Einstein-level of intellect, but it is irrelevant. They can only report what they see, and if they can’t see it, they can’t diagnose it. But every single day, we are seeing pathology in patient’s Spectral CT scans that have not been seen using an older technology.

“There isn’t a day I’m not making a phone call to a referring doctor on a new case of unknown cancer or some other obscure diagnosis. I’ve never made so many phone calls in my career. We have a lot of patients come in here who know there is something wrong and haven’t yet been able to get a diagnosis. There was one gentleman who had five scans in the last six months with no answer. It was not until he got on the Spectral CT that we could see that he had cancer of his chest wall.”

Kirralee says, “There are times Zane shows me scans done on non-Spectral scanners, and you just cannot see cancer, even when you know where to look, we can’t see it. Then he’s like, ‘Have a look at this.’ And the cancer is so bright and unmissable.”

Zane says it is so important to be diagnosed early. “With modern medicine, our best chance at altering the course of a disease is in the early stages. Once it is chronic, forget it. The horse has bolted. You can’t unscramble an egg. Spectral CT is the future of radiology. In five years, everyone will have a Spectral scanner. But at the moment, it’s just Mermaid Beach Radiology who are offering it. We wanted to be an early adopter because this machine is your best shot.”

Holistic Medicine

Kirralee Sherif, the wife of Zane, is passionate about the experience the patient has at Mermaid Beach Radiology. As a working mother of four young children, she has the usual juggle of family and working life. But being busy doesn’t diminish her desire for the patient to feel cared for when they need it. She is intensely convinced that the patient journey is paramount and has made it her life’s work. “I had imaging done myself between my second third child. I had some really awful news, and I was sitting in a clinic in Sydney bawling my eyes out in the hallway, as everyone’s going past getting their images done. I was so alone and I just didn’t want anyone to ever feel the way I did that day. We designed this clinic so that the patient has a much better journey than that.”

inside Mermaid research
The living wall, which sits behind the reception desk designed by local artist Lisa De Boer

The clinic has a dedicated room in case someone needs to hear bad news and two full-time nurses. The patient comfort room has a heated blanket, a TV, and if someone needs time with Zane to discuss a diagnosis or if they just need time with the nurse, they can have this room. It’s also a recovery room, and an observation room too.”

The Ambiance of Mermaid Radiology

When you walk into the clinic, it has an art gallery vibe. A living wall, looking like a tropical rainforest, in reception is beguiling, and unexpected. It is properly beautiful. Green life grows in a lot of places in the clinic. Says Kirralee, “All the plants in reception and throughout the building are real. There’s a lot to be said about the effects of greenery on health. We want our patients to feel as calm and as comfortable as possible – like they’re coming into a resort. It is hard enough coming into a place like this, let alone when it’s all clinical and scary.”

It is not even scary for kids. A kiddie room with a short-throw projector plays movies for the children who are waiting. When we were there, some kids were kicking back on the beanbags, watching their favorite show.

Kirralee and Zane are both passionate about the environment. Amazingly, Mermaid Beach Radiology is becoming a carbon-neutral practice, which is an excellent achievement for such a  young practice. Says Kirralee, “I keep trying to instill in my children that we are here to make a positive impact. You have to treat the planet and all the living things on it with respect, and we want to model that in our work environment, as well.”

Kirralee and Zane are also on the same page with supporting local artists. “We used local suppliers where we possibly could as well. The front desk is all done by a local artist, Lisa De Boer. Sean Scott is a well-known photographer based in Burleigh. We’ve used his images all around the clinic and backlit them. We love the Gold Coast and as a family-run practice, we want the clinic to celebrate that.

“Zane has worked for other radiology companies. But we wanted to do things differently. We have a more patient-based focus. We aren’t about meeting strict goals. We just want to make sure that the patients have the best imaging journey that they can. If there’s something that can be done on the day, Zane will call the patient’s doctor and progress their imaging further. If injections are required, it can be done there and then, rather than the time-wasting to-ing and fro-ing with other doctors. That all adds to stress and pushes costs up as well.”

Radiology Expertise

Ben Kennedy is a world-renowned MRI scientist and researcher, according to Kirralee. He was formerly head of the MRI modality with the QScan group. When we go to see the MRI in action, he says, “Want to see something cool?”

We always want to see something cool. He  says, “You want to see real-life cerebrospinal fluid flowing through the brain?” He points to the screen. “That’s CSF flowing in and out of the cerebral aqueduct.” It was amazing to see it live. It looked like tomato sauce being squeezed repeatedly through a hose.

Yep. We all stood there and watched spinal fluid flowing through the brain. It was fascinating. The question was asked, “Do all of our bodies do that?” Ben answered, “I hope so.”

MRI is typically considered the most sophisticated imaging tool in radiology. As a pre‑emptive strike, or as a way to get a fast, accurate, early diagnosis, the value for money using MRI is incredible. But even if you feel fit and well but just want peace of mind that there is nothing dark brewing, you can waltz in and get an MRI scan with no radiation.

Says Zane, “You can wake up one day and say, ‘I’m curious what my brain looks like today. I want to go get an MRI.’ And just get it done. We have had people who’ve just come in and just chosen to have a full-body screening for cancer on the MRI. And we’ve almost found something on every one of them. The pick-up rate is huge. We are now the go-to place for doctors on the Gold Coast who want to get themselves and their kids checked out.”

Going Off-Piste

The conventional route of diagnosis is not one Zane is a fan of. “If you’re sick, you don’t wake up one day going, ‘Right, I’m going to go see my doc today. I hope he/she starts me off on this process with the worst available tests.’ But that’s exactly what happens. You go and see your doctor, sick.

You’ll almost always start off with an X-ray which is a 125-year-old technology. Then you might get to an ultrasound. You will rarely get to a CT, and almost never get to an MRI. By the time that has happened, it could be too late. Ask anyone, what is the best diagnostic camera in medicine? Everyone will say MRI. Yet it’s the last thought, not the first thought in the investigative process. Which is bonkers.”

While Medicare will not refund the cost of an MRI scan, which starts at $360, it is still very much worth the price. Says Zane, “Medicare is a great safety net for the less privileged. But it has also forced our thinking towards the idea that we should never put our hand in our pocket when it comes to health care. That is just the wrong mentality.”

girl with a toy in the machine
It is suspected that the monkey in question has a very serious case of fluffyitis

There’s no better way to spend your money than on your health, so you will be around for your loved ones for a long time. You spend similar amounts of money on your hair, a good meal, a couple of bottles of wine. You ARE worth it. In fact, we are all worth it. And in this case, technology is very definitely our friend. ■

How to Make an Appointment

Mermaid Beach Radiology offers Wide Bore 3T MRI, Spectral CT, Cone Beam CT, Ultrasound, X-Ray, biopsies, and all pain relief injections all using the very latest technology. You can make an appointment for any of these, and they accept referrals from all over Australia.

Phone Number: 07 5619 9499

Address: 2469 Gold Coast Hwy, Mermaid Beach

Email: info@mermaidbeachradiology.com.au.

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