By DeLynda Pilon
An internal investigation by the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) ensuring all of the approximately 200 patients under the care of Dr. Suresh Katakkar received and will continue to receive the best treatment possible will continue though Katakkar resigned from his position on June 12.
Katakkar was suspended with pay in May pending a review of his patient files after concerns were raised.
“Multiple practice concerns were brought to our attention,” said Dr. Charles Blanke, vice president of systematic care for the BCCA.
Though sketchy on details from the BCCA’s point of view, due to concerns regarding patient confidentiality as well as what is appropriate to be released regarding an employee, Katakkar explained his side of the story in a letter he sent out to patients following his resignation, which was recently printed in the Prince George Citizen.
The letter tells the story of a very ill patient, one who was not responding well to various types of chemotherapy. Katakkar says he recalled a study he’d done and presented at the New York Academy of Sciences, discussing a patient-specific vaccine which both the patient and her husband consented to her taking. At first the patient responded.
The letter states, “My manager wanted me to be transparent and inform the BCCA of this. But I felt I had to gather all my proof and scientific support before informing the BCCA. As all of you know how busy I had been it was taking time to prepare the statement. In the meantime patient had clinically good response but her white blood cell count went down and she passed away with infection in the blood stream. The low white cell count was due to chemotherapy, not due to the vaccine. Prior to her death there was accumulation of the fluid and the fluid did show the cancer cells. My manager then reported me to BCCA.”
The letter goes on to say that getting permission for using the vaccine on his patient would have taken too long.
However, according to Blanke, there are specific protocols in place for doctors so they can handle any particular case.
The mainstream course generally taken when it comes to cancer treatment medication usually involves the life support budget.
Blanke said when there’s evidence of a new cancer treatment, and it looks promising, a rigorous evaluation of the product is made, then a recommendation for funding is made. A submission for a new budget is sent to the minister, and if funding is received, then an implementation program is put in province wide, and the BCCA supports the use of the drug and monitors the usage to make sure it’s being properly administered.
“But we recognize this is not always nimble enough for every one,”Blanke said.
The second is patient specific. If in a particular case a treatment that is unusual, but has been used on a patient in a similar state as the one in the request and has proven successful, then the oncologist can ask permission to try it out.
“The majority of these requests are answered within four hours, but almost always within a day or two,” Blanke said.
Finally, sometimes a doctor asks if a highly experimental treatment can be used. This request is met with very rigorous testing. Likely the drug in question has never been given to a human before.
Even so, Blanke said it usually takes about a week to get permission.