A pilot Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Unit opened three months ago at Sheba Medical Center/Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan is the first of its kind in Israel and possibly in the world, according to its founder, Dr. Damien Urban, director of oncology at the medical center.

The goal is to help patients cut through medical red tape and receive results of oncological tests — blood work, biopsies, MRIs and CT scans — within two weeks as opposed to the three months this process normally can take.

Urban says the rapid approach is virtually unheard of in the Western world. The handful of rapid diagnostic centers in countries including the UK, US and Canada focus on specific cancers such as prostate, lung, breast and colon. “But [I have seen] nothing regarding across-the-board cancer testing,” he says.

The Australian émigré and his staff recognized the need to drastically streamline the process in order to get a diagnostic response and a treatment regimen in place quickly and efficiently. “If a person has a cancerous growth in their body, the race against time becomes a critical factor,” Urban says.

“The mental trauma of a patient waiting for results over a three-month period can also have a devastating effect. It literally freezes people in their daily lives, so we are trying to overcome this process with the creation of the Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Unit,” says Urban.

Since it opened, the pilot unit has received some 90 patients with a wide variety of suspected cancers. For the time being, it is open only to Israeli residents.

“Diagnostic oncology is a totally new form of medicine that is being developed and will be the future of medicine in general. The patients are referred straight from their regular [HMO] doctor to Sheba and we do all of the testing, using the most advanced technologies in the hospital,” Urban says.

The unit is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of Sheba oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and a nuclear medicine physician giving their time to the pilot project on top of their other duties.