It takes 20 minutes to determine if cancer has been completely removed during a surgery. When a Pathologist is faced with that time crunch, they need reliable and efficient equipment to help them analyze tissues. Through a donation from the Foundation of Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, this is again possible.

The Cryostat machine is a specialized piece of equipment used in the laboratory to determine if cancer is still present in surrounding tissue, if more cancer needs to be removed, or if the removal is too complicated to be completed in the surgery. By freezing the tissue sample, and then slicing the samples into thin specimens, the laboratory team can analyze the tissue and provide a report to the surgeon-all while the patient is still under anesthesia in the operating room.

“We can sometimes receive up to 5 or 6 tissue samples to test from a patient,” says Lisa Depooter, Charge Technologist at CKHA. “The surgeon needs to know if the cancer is benign or malignant, and if the surrounding tissues are clear of cancer. The surgeon only wants to remove the affected tissue. It’s the difference between removing part of a breast, or the entire thing.”

The previous Cryostat machine was beyond repair, often needing to be defrosted by staff prior to use. In late December, the machine officially stopped working. CKHA reached out to the Foundation, and in January, a new $32,000 machine was installed. Over 14,000 biopsies were preformed at CKHA in 2016, with around 400 requiring the use of the Cryostat. The machine is used primarily for breast, thyroid and lymph node related surgeries.

“The number of Cryostat requests are actually increasing now,” says Lisa. “Doctors have a renewed sense of confidence in the machine and its results. We’ve had the new machine installed for a few months and we are preforming tests weekly now. They can confidently go back to their patient and tell them ‘we did it. We’ve removed the tumor.’”