Cancer and medical tourism | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Cancer and medical tourism

/ 12:53 AM February 02, 2012

While health and tourism officials as well as health institutions are doing their best to promote medical tourism in the Philippines by way of drawing foreign patients to avail of Filipino medical expertise, Chinese hospitals are beating them through aggressive advertising right in our own home ground. This is especially so in the cancer department. But this is getting ahead of the story.

The third week of January being national Cancer Consciousness Week and Feb. 4 being World Cancer Day, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) recently held a press conference to brief the media on the national cancer situation and other related issues. PSMO’s campaign theme is “Fighting Cancer: Education, Prevention, Treatment.”


Founded in 1969, PSMO is a scientific, professional organization of medical oncologists (now numbering 146) committed to the advancement of the science and the ethical and holistic practice of medical oncology. This means active participation in national programs and campaigns to promote cancer awareness and safe practices in the field of medical oncology for optimal patient results.

The national picture is not pretty. Studies from 2008 to 2010 have shown a steady increase in cancer incidence. PSMO cited Globocan research estimates that in 2012, new cancer cases (in men and women) will be roughly 82,460. The top cancer sites in women include breast, cervix, uterus and lungs, while in men they are lungs, liver, colon/rectum and prostate.


The good news is that more advocacy groups are spreading cancer awareness. Said PSMO president Dr. Felycette Gay Lapus, “Every day is cancer consciousness day for us. We seek to arm the public with as much information as possible. Prevention is the ultimate goal, but if that can’t be achieved, it is important to get proper and safe treatment as early as possible.”

PSMO vice president Dr. Ellie May Villegas said that earlier detection and better treatment have resulted in decreased cancer deaths (18 percent) in the United States since the 1990s, reversing decades of increases. “Hopefully, the Philippines will follow suit,” she added.

Dr. Dennis Tudtud shared the latest research findings in occupation-related cancer. Unknown to many, there are carcinogenic chemicals in the work place that increase the risk of cancer.

An issue that came up in the press conference was the aggressive advertising of Chinese hospitals to entice Filipinos to be “medical tourists” in China. In the past months major dailies carried ads that boasted of new technologies and innovative treatment procedures for cancer patients in China. These ads even carried stories of individual patients (non-Filipinos) who purportedly benefited from the treatments.

Representatives of a Chinese hospital even go to schools with Chinese-Filipino population to do their promotion. Their target audiences are not the students but the Chinese-Filipino parents. This is according to a doctor (with Chinese ancestry) from a well-known Metro Manila hospital. Her daughter is a student in one of the schools visited by promoters.

This doctor happens to have experienced first-hand what going to one of these China hospitals was like. Her own brother who had lung cancer died within seven months despite assurances from the Chinese doctors that he was “95 percent cured.”

This doctor’s brother had undergone procedures here and in Singapore, chemotherapy among them, but these were not completed because, before she knew it, her brother and his family had decided that he should go to China for treatment. Despite doubts, the doctor did not get in the way of her brother’s desires. She had no clear idea what he was going through. All she was told was that her brother was getting better.


On the patient’s last trip to China things went awry. “I got a call. I spoke to a doctor who spoke broken English but we could hardly understand each other. I decided fast, got a visa and flew to China.” She was upset by what she saw.

“People at the airport were not familiar with the hospital even though its name rang a bell in the Philippines. Well, it was a building on what looked like Avenida Rizal, right close to the street. You should be able to imagine that. My brother was on the seventh floor where the well-off were supposed to be. While he was dying there was nothing attached to him, not even oxygen. He died 15 minutes after I arrived. The hospital had no morgue. He had to be brought to some place.”

And then there’s the issue of so-called radioactive seed implantation. Oncologists shared horror stories about patients coming home from China with the still radioactive seeds inside them. “Pity the airplane passenger sitting beside a radioactive patient,” said an oncologist who knew of such cases.

So why aren’t the Filipino oncologists, among the best in the world, and the state-of-the-art procedures in our five-star hospitals, not being aggressively promoted? They are medical tourism’s best kept secret. “We don’t have the funds,” Lapus lamented.

Book launch: On Feb. 4, “running priest” Fr. Robert Reyes will launch his book, “Buhay Ka: Struggles in Mortality, Glimpses of Eternity” that documents Hong Kong’s overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs) battle against cancer. The venue is the St. Dominic Medical Center in Bacoor, Cavite where visiting Canadian doctors will present a new program and equipment for early cancer detection. Reyes’ book will be available at Popular Bookstore on T. Morato, Quezon City.

Reyes had accompanied many women OFWs on their journey towards healing and to the threshold of eternity.

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TAGS: Advocacy, Cancer, health, Medical Tourism, Philippine Society of Medical Oncology
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