Several medical institutions around the country are planning to establish dedicated hospitals for cancer treatment that have the world’s most advanced and expensive equipment, given the disease has been the top cause of death in Taiwan for the past 30 years.
According to data from 2008 that was released in April by the Bureau of Health Promotion, a person was diagnosed with cancer every six minutes and 35 seconds on average in Taiwan. The bureau set aside NT$2.1 billion (US$73.22 million) in its budget last year for cancer-screening tests.
Meanwhile, since late last year, three dedicated cancer facilities have broken ground — National Taiwan University Hospital’s (NTUH) in Taipei last November, E-Da Hospital in Greater Kaohsiung and the Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in January.
While these new facilities are set to open between 2013 and 2014, Taipei Medical University Hospital (TMUH) opened its cancer clinic last November by putting together 12 teams of doctors with different specialties into one building within the existing hospital.
“Patients believe that if a hospital can treat cancer, then it can treat all diseases. As a result, patients with acute and serious diseases, such as a heart attacks or respiratory distress, will be attracted [to our center],” said Chiou Jeng-fong, deputy superintendent of TMUH.
One trend accompanying these new cancer hospitals is the introduction of proton therapy equipment in Taiwan, which only exists in 31 facilities around the world.
Both NTUH and Chang Gung plan to acquire the equipment, which will cost between NT$2 billion and NT$3 billion — making Taiwan the fifth Asian country to have it.
Although facilities in Japan and Western countries charge US$25,000 to US$160,000 for each proton therapy treatment, the fees set by the two Taiwanese hospitals will be US$10,000 to ease the financial burden on patients.
However, Andrew Huang (黃達夫), president and chief executive of the Koo Foundation Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center, worries such purchases will lead to another “arms race” among Taiwan’s medical services, following the competition of high-end health checks.
“The US’ top cancer hospitals, such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Duke Cancer Institute, are unwilling to use proton therapy equipment,” Huang said, adding research papers found that such therapies only worked on stage-zero and stage-one cancer patients.
Huang said Taiwan’s existing equipment is capable enough of treating cancer and that the best way to lower the cancer mortality rate is through early treatment, which can be achieved by encouraging people with high cancer risks to take screening tests and training doctors to better diagnose the disease.
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