Alberta Cancer Foundation

Feet on the Ground

A few years back, Dr. Houman Mahallati didn’t climb Mount Kilimanjaro just because it was there. “I did it because I wanted to make a difference,” the Calgary radiology subspecialist and managing partner of EFW Radiology explains.

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In 2005, Mahallati ascended Africa’s tallest peak with 21 other philanthropically minded individuals. Their journey to the summit raised more than $525,000 for cancer research. “It was a personal challenge and a chance to see some of Africa,” he remembers. “But our primary motivation was the unique opportunity to support advances in the treatment of cancer.”

Fast forward seven years and Dr. Mahallati is again part of a team that has contributed a significant gift toward breast cancer research, but this time he did it with his feet on the ground. At the Calgary Women’s Show in late 2012, staff from EFW presented a cheque for $50,000 to the Alberta Cancer Foundation on behalf of EFW Radiology. The company has supported the foundation in the past, but this occasion marked EFW’s first major gift to the foundation. Dr. Sasha Lupichuk, chair of the Southern Alberta Breast Tumour Group accepted the gift, which will help support the group’s ongoing research into new breast cancer treatments through clinical trials at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

The desire to make an impact was Mahallati’s personal motivation for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and it is also the motivation behind EFW’s corporate donation. “We want to make a difference in the lives of our patients,” he says. “We do that first by providing the best subspecialty care possible at our 12 radiology clinics in southern Alberta. But we also do it at the community level by supporting not-for-profit organizations that work hard to improve the lives of families where we live.”

EFW Radiology is keen to support the local clinical trials, a research area where new findings can quickly make a difference in patients’ lives.

Mahallati says that EFW supports women’s health and organizations as a way to build stronger, healthier families. “Don’t get me wrong,” he hastens to add, “it’s not that we don’t care about men. But throughout history, women are interwoven with health care for the family in all cultures. We see more women in our clinics; they come as patients and to support others.” In other words, helping women-focused organizations is EFW’s way of helping everyone in the family, male and female.

Since breast cancer is among the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women, EFW’s support for breast cancer research is a natural fit. Add there’s a close relationship between EFW and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, where many of EFW’s breast imaging specialists, such as Dr. Paul Burrowes, Dr. Andrew Lee and Dr. Bobbie Docktor also participate in cancer research and treatment. EFW’s recent donation to the Southern Alberta Breast Tumour Group made perfect sense.

EFW is especially keen to support the group’s clinical trials, and a research area where new findings can quickly make a difference in patients’ lives. Alberta currently leads the country in clinical trial participation, with 11 per cent of new patients signing on for trials compared to the national average of seven per cent. Still, many patients who would like to take part in a clinical trial in Alberta find themselves on a waiting list. Clinical trials are expensive and, since their cost isn’t covered as a medical service by government funding, the number of them is limited.

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CHEQUE IT OUT: (l) Dr. Sasha Lupichuk from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, (r) Dr. Bobbie Docktor, EFW Radiology, Breast Imaging Radiologist.

No one knows this better than oncologists and researchers like Dr. Lupichuk, who wishes she could offer a clinical trial spot to any patient it might benefit. She’s well aware that without support from companies like EFW Radiology, many hospitals would be unable to participate in important cooperative national group trials.

“These academically driven clinical trials are where the really significant questions about new treatment are being asked and tested,” says Dr. Lupichuk. “It’s research to find the upcoming best standard of care, the treatments of tomorrow – it’s not abstract research that will sit on a shelf. Real patients are involved and the knowledge we gain can be put to use now. The support of companies like EFW Radiology helps make clinical care trials an option for more patients.” The Alberta Cancer Foundation recognizes the importance of clinical trials and funds them at about $2.5 million per year.

Currently, the Breast Tumour Group has trials underway to evaluate a new drug called Foretineb to treat what’s called “triple negative” breast cancer (where tissue is negative for estrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptor) and the effectiveness of adding the drug Herceptin to traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments. At press time, the details of the new clinical trial that EFW Radiology’s donation will support weren’t confirmed, but one thing is certain: whatever the details, it will make a difference to the end users – the patients.

What is a radiologist?

Radiologists are specialist doctors who use medical images to see inside a patient’s body. They can diagnose and evaluate the progress of disease and injury. Radiologists can also help treat illness such as cancer. They train in the use and interpretation of test results produced by machines such as ultrasound, X-ray, computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), mammography and nuclear medicine. Some medical procedures are aided by the use of radiologic imaging. These specialists work closely with a team of technicians and technologists who often perform the test under the radiologist’s direction. After the tests, the radiologist interprets the images and gives results to a patient and/or the patient’s primary care physician.