National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital recently used an advanced 256-slice computed tomography (CT) scanner to examine the health of its 300 attending physicians and department heads aged 45 or over, finding 12 of them to have lung cancer and two to have breast cancer.
Several are experts in surgical critical care.
The results represent a cancer contraction rate of 4 percent.
All were diagnosed at an early stage and have subsequently had tumors removed, with chemotherapy now unnecessary.
Some doctors were found to have developed coronary arteriosclerosis and have since undergone coronary angioplasty and stenting.
NTU Hospital said it does not plan to set up a task force to further analyze the findings, on the grounds that figures will be meaningful only if they are collected over a long period of time.
Medical sources said the hospital originally expected to explore how many of its attending physicians might have developed coronary arteriosclerosis as two of its elite surgeons — Chen Chiung-nien (陳炯年), head of the department of surgery, and Hsu Wen-ming (許文明), head of the department of pediatric surgery — had fallen victim to acute heart attacks earlier.
Some hospital executives said they were baffled by the relatively high incidence, since the hospital bans smoking on its grounds and none of those afflicted are habitual smokers.
The phenomenon could be linked to surgeons often working in badly ventilated operating rooms, or exposed to a radioactive environment when treating patients, some doctors said.
After learning of the physical examination results, many NTU Hospital medical staff below the age of 45 said they are mulling whether to undergo advanced CT scanning out of their own pockets.
Taipei Veterans General Hospital said many of its physicians also underwent the 256-slice CT scan three years ago when the hospital had first purchased the machine.
At that time, several physicians were also found to have contracted lung cancer. They were also diagnosed at an early stage and had their malignant tumors removed in time.
Tsai Chun-ming (蔡俊明), a National Yangming University professor, cited the results of a US study showing that the lung cancer mortality rate was lowered by 20 percent by having high-risk groups such as habitual smokers and those aged over 55 undergo the 256-slice CT scan.
According to statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the lung cancer rate in Taiwan is about 33 per 100,000 head of population.
Yet Tsai said the ratio could reach as high as 40 per 100,000, with twice as many male patients as females.
The Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation said recently that some local hospitals have become “sweatshops” that breach labor laws. The foundation said local hospitals should not overwork their staff and should invest more on improving working conditions to better protect their staff.