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Global isotope shortage led to rescheduling, delays for Sask. cancer patients: SHA

The Saskatchewan Health Authority logo can be seen in this CTV News file photo. The Saskatchewan Health Authority logo can be seen in this CTV News file photo.

A recent worldwide shortage of radiological isotopes has had a ‘minimal’ effect on patients in the province according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

The radiological isotope Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) is used in diagnostic medical imaging. Tc-99m is one of many isotopes used for medical tests and treatments.

Global supply challenges for radiological isotopes like Tc-99m began with the shutdown of a Belgian nuclear reactor, BR2, on Oct. 28, 2022.

The shutdown came as three of the five reactors at the plant were scheduled for maintenance. The Belgian facility is one of only six plants in the world that supply Tc-99m.

“Globally and nationally there have been recent disruptions to medical isotope supply chains,” the SHA said in a statement to CTV News.

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s approach has been to diversify and reinforce its supply chains with its isotope manufacturers. As a result, the local impacts to Saskatoon and Regina have been minimal.”

In the past, Canada was one of the largest global suppliers of Tc-99m. The Chalk River NRU reactor, located northwest of Ottawa, produced the isotope until 2016 after the plant’s federal funding was cut in 2013.

The ‘minimal’ effects of the shortage did include some rescheduling for patients in Saskatchewan’s major centres, according to the SHA.

“There has been no shortage of Tc-99m isotopes experienced in Saskatoon and minimal disruption in Regina, which is now back to normal operations,” the statement read.

In addition to Tc-99m, supply issues surrounding Iodine-131 (used to diagnose and treat cancers of the thyroid gland) were also experienced.

“In regards to Iodine-131, there was a two-week period in November where the SHA supply saw challenges which resulted in a couple of patients needing to be rebooked,” the statement read.

The SHA said that services have returned to normal following the shortages.

“Since then we have received these medical isotopes and have resumed normal services," the SHA said.

"Any patients impacted would have been booked into the next available spot.”

With files from CTV’s Natasha O’Neill. Top Stories

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