Ana Canudo and Diana Dantas - Nuclear Medicine Technicians at the Champalimaud Centre
Ana Canudo and Diana Dantas are Nuclear Medicine Technicians here at the Champalimaud Centre. In this interview, they tell us about their work in one of the most cutting-edge areas of oncologic diagnosis and treatment.
What is the role of a Nuclear Medicine Technician, both in a general sense and on a day to day basis?
Ana Canudo: Nuclear Medicine is a diagnostic and therapeutic technique, through the administration of radiopharmaceuticals. Here in the Champalimaud Foundation, we're talking mostly about oncological exams, although we also provide therapy, albeit with less frequency.
Diana Dantas: On a daily basis, we cover more than 12 hours a day of work, so we have distinct shifts in which each person is responsible for a function. It all starts early in the morning with the equipment quality control checks, and then onto the preparation of the radiopharmaceuticals, including the respective quality controls. Next comes the patients’ follow-up, with the preparation and explanation of the exam, the administration of the radiopharmaceuticals and finally the acquisition of images, the processing and analysis of these images, in order to allow the doctors to carry out the reports.
Ana Canudo: All of the activity within our Service is of a multidisciplinary character, being that good interaction between all staff members is crucial. From when the patient arrives until the delivery of the final exam reports, the participation of many people is integral. The administrative team that schedule the appointments; the specialist doctors that recommend the clinical use of ionizing radiation; technicians that administer the exams themselves; operational assistants that help with the well-being of the patients; physicists who perform quality control and radiological protection; and specialist radiopharmaceutical professionals to supervise – all of these people are vital to the Service.
What are the biggest daily challenges you face?
Ana Canudo: One of the main challenges is to demystify the use of radiation a little. A very important aspect in our area of expertise is that the radiation is indispensable. It is also fundamental to explain, in a way that is easy to understand, the potential dangers of radiation for the general public, never forgetting the benefits to the patients themselves.
Diana Dantas: As professionals, we are prepared to carry out all of the necessary tasks with the maximum amount of protection and safety. This is done naturally due to our training and professional experience. As our patients often dealing with handling oncological diseases, we are in a position where it is necessary to try to alleviate some of their understandable anxiety. This is probably the biggest challenge – trying to reassure these patients and make them feel better, to ensure that their time with the Nuclear Medicine Service helps to reduce any negativity.
Ana Canudo: Exactly! Most of the tests we perform, in an oncological context, evaluate treatment response, or the initial staging of disease. How a patient deals with their disease, and the mental reactions to it, demand personalised care, with which we have to deal with, understand and help. Of course, the end result can always be a surprise, positive or negative. An important part of our work is learning to adapt and be flexible to each unique patient, never neglecting the end result which is the diagnostic quality of the exam.
What are the highlights of your work?
Diana Dantas: There are always people who stand out, because they come to the service more often for exams, or because they engage with us more. We find ourselves saying "look, Mrs. X or Mr. Y is coming here next week, I hope (s)he's okay", and the good part is seeing these people, who we have come to know, do the follow-ups, and find out that everything is stable, or even with some improvement. This is what makes us really happy!
Ana Canudo: On the technical level, we feel the value of our work through the production of radiopharmaceuticals made here by us, and often these are new things that are rarely, if ever, made in Nuclear Medicine Services here in Portugal, or even internationally. This is truly exciting! And then there are other aspects of our activity that give us great pleasure – the academic participation in the training of students, and interns, amongst others. We get a lot of students who are doing their degrees or Master's degrees and are on internships with us. It gives us immense personal and collective pride that we can help in the training of future professionals.
How has your field developed since you started?
Ana Canudo: In the Foundation, there have been advances on a staffing level; our team has more than doubled, which has had a huge effect on our routine. We have a much larger team, maintaining its togetherness, fully trusting in each other. We have a totally interconnected team, not only concerning the technicians, but also the doctors, physicists, operating and administrative assistants, as well as the pharmaceutical team, and the other Foundation team members.
Diana Dantas: In our area, the developments we make are primarily in our capacity to synthesise and make available new radiopharmaceuticals. Since we've been here, we have been able to introduce new diagnostic and treatment methods with at least 6 new radiopharmaceuticals that were not used until very recently. In several of these cases, we were pioneers in Portugal.
Ana Canudo: And some of these radiopharmaceuticals are made by us, they can't be bought ready-made and that gives us a lot of pride; to create medically used products that meet the highest quality of international regulations and standards, and to know that we are the ones that produced them from scratch.
Diana Dantas: The equipment that we use is cutting edge and its development is dependent on the manufacturers. However, we have contributed to the improvement of processing and exam analysis software.
What would you like to be able to say 5 or 10 years from now?
Ana Canudo: Our ambition for the next 5 or 10 years is to augment and improve the services we provide, across all of the activities that use radiopharmaceuticals, namely to improve the spaces available and the availability of the equipment. We know that we are on course to implement a new PET/CT and perhaps another Gamma Camera will be necessary.
Diana Dantas: What Ana said is really important because we would like to keep the high quality of service that we have offer, while at the same time participating in other complementary activities, such as clinical trials and research projects .