The Department of Laboratory Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) plays an important role in patient care. Our pathologists analyze laboratory tests for cancer diagnosis, staging and treatment planning and monitoring. These tests include those of blood, urine or other bodily fluids. The goal is to ensure that you receive the appropriate cancer treatment plan designed for your needs.
The team prides itself on accurate, reliable and rapid turnaround times for in-house blood tests. Our goal is to eliminate as much of your wait time as possible, so you can receive targeted treatment with fewer delays or interruptions.
Key divisions of the laboratory include processing of blood, chemistry, transfusion services, hematology and urinalysis.
Chemistry and special chemistry
This group of tests uses chemical processes to measure levels of chemical components in the blood or urine to help us evaluate your general health status. Components of the blood include: blood glucose (sugar), electrolytes, enzymes (e.g., creatinine kinase), lipids (e.g., cholesterol), proteins (e.g., albumin, globulins), hormones (e.g., cortisol) and other metabolic substances (e.g., uric acid, blood urea nitrogen or BUN). Some special chemistry tests deal primarily with tests for thyroid function, vitamin B12 and folate, and tumor markers.
- Tumor marker tests: A tumor marker is a substance that can be found in the blood or other bodily fluids which may be elevated in a person with cancer. Aside from detecting the presence of cancer, tumor markers are used to monitor your response to therapy. Tumor marker testing turnaround time is less than two hours from the time blood is drawn to the time the results are sent to the medical oncologist.
Blood bank/transfusion services
One specialty within the laboratory is transfusion medicine, otherwise known as the blood bank. Medical technologists in the blood bank are responsible for ensuring that blood products given to you are compatible with your blood. Donated blood is screened for infectious diseases and tested for antibodies to ensure the blood is suitable for a transfusion. We use the highest level of checks and balances in this department to ensure safety.
Hematology is the study of blood cells and blood-related disorders. Tests performed by this team include complete blood counts (CBC), differentials, body fluid analysis and bone marrow procedures. The results are used to monitor your general health.
- Complete blood count (CBC): CBCs are performed on an analyzer using laser technology, which measures the reflection of the laser light from each individual cell, and in turn, provides cell identification. CBCs are used to gage your ability to receive additional therapy. The analyses may also help diagnose anemia, blood cancers and problems in the bone marrow. A CBC can include white blood cell count (WBC), red blood cell count (RBC), platelet count, hematocrit red blood cell volume (HCT) and hemoglobin concentration (HB) and a differential blood count, identifying the blood cells.
- Coagulation tests: These tests are used to measure platelet function, coagulability and clotting ability to help diagnose and/or monitor bleeding and clotting disorders, as well as anti-coagulation (anti-clotting) therapies (e.g., heparin therapy). Bleeding and clotting disorders can result from cancers such as liver disease, or as a side effect of certain medications.
- Urinalysis (UA) test: This test determines the content of urine to help diagnose infections (e.g., of the kidney, bladder) and disease. It includes examination of color, pH level, red and white blood cells, bacteria and chemical analysis of blood, proteins, glucose and other substances.
Microbiology is the study of disease-causing microorganisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Microorganisms can include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. Microbiology tests help to isolate and identify infectious agents in the blood, stool, urine, sputum (mucous from the lungs), cerebrospinal fluid, and other body fluids. The Laboratory typically sends microbiology tests to a reference lab, where the infectious agents are tested and the results are sent back via an automated computer system.
Point of Care technology
Every department at Western delivers "Point of Care" or "POC" services. This means that laboratory services are brought to you, rather than asking you to go to other parts of the hospital. We collect blood and specimen samples at your bedside or in your clinic treatment room.
"We take the services to the patient, not the patient to the services. This process decreases wait time for everyone involved with the patients’ care," says Ward.
The i-STAT is one way that the Western laboratory offers POC service. Using the handheld device, our nurses collect just two or three drops of blood, allowing for a range of blood tests to be performed at the bedside.
Depending on the blood test involved, this device can deliver real-time, lab-quality results within a matter of minutes. Your care team can review the results and make any changes to your treatment plan immediately, saving time.
Currently, the I-STAT is used by:
- Cardiopulmonary team, to evaluate arterial blood gases and monitor lung function.
- Coumadin Clinic, to measure how long the blood takes to clot and make adjustments to medication.
- Imaging, to evaluate kidney function before imaging tests.
"It's unusual to have these devices out of the lab, and in the hands of doctors and nurses. Our team draws all blood samples at the bedside, which is different than most hospitals. In addition to being more time-effective and reducing mistakes, our patients develop trusting relationships with our nurses. This bond is part of what makes us so different," says Ward.
The Sunquest Collection Manager is a positive patient identification device designed to eliminate errors and ensure patient safety. Our nurses use this handheld device to positively identify a patient by scanning his or her bar-coded armband. This ensures that the right tests are performed on the right patient, and maintains the highest level of positive patient identification. The device also prints labels that are affixed to the patient’s samples – all at the point of care.
"Once Collection Manager is activated, labels are printed," says Ward. "Patient information and lab requirements are printed on these labels. All of these vital steps create a feeling of confidence in the patient and help ensure safety."