Taiwan makes waves with revolutionary cancer treatment centre

TAIPEI: Taiwan, already acknowledged globally as a leading hub for semiconductor manufacturing, is now making waves for its groundbreaking cancer treatment facility.

The island nation’s first Heavy Ion Therapy Centre (HITC) in Taipei, constructed at a cost of US$150 million, is now actively treating Stage One and Two cancer patients.

The centre, the first of its kind outside Japan, focuses on painless and targeted radiotherapy treatment using ion radiation therapy, and boasts a higher recovery rate in a shorter time.

HITC provides the latest medical technology in treating cancer in the most non-invasive manner using Hitachi’s ion technology.

Recognised as an advanced type of cancer radiotherapy, the heavy ion therapy system is intended to address the unmet cancer treatment demand beyond the capacity of existing proton therapy systems in Taiwan.

Dr Wui-Chiang Lee, who is Vice Superintendent of the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, where the centre is based, said Heavy Ion Therapy is suitable for patients of all ages, including the elderly.

He said depending on the patient’s condition, a Stage One or Two cancer patient could expect to gain full recovery in four to 12 sessions.

Speaking to members of the media during a sneak peek at the centre in Taipei recently, he said there are key differences from regular chemotherapy.

“Unlike the chemotherapy of the past, this treatment does not produce heat, pain or discomfort while they undergo the treatment process. This ion treatment is a technology designed to find only the cancer-stricken cell and subdue it using the heavy ion particle energy produced,” he said.

HITC consists of two treatment rooms, each equipped with vertical and horizontal ports. It also includes real time image gating motion management, enabling it to treat tumours in motion due to respiration and advanced spot scanning technology to irradiate even tumours with complex shapes with high precision.

“This process is proven to be effective, fast and poses very minimal side effects on normal tissues surrounding the cancer cell,” he said.

The media visit to the centre was organised by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which hosted journalists from the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Kuwait, Nigeria, Denmark, Paraguay, Australia, Belize and several other countries over seven days.

The centre was officiated by Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen in May this year.

Dr Lee, who had previously served as the Asian Society for Quality in Healthcare (ASQua) president between 2014 and 2017, said the centre’s establishment marked another great achievement for Taiwan’s medical field.

Elaborating on the HITC, Dr Lee said other than ion therapy, primary tumours in Stage One or Two can also be treated via radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy or surgical intervention, which is also available in most hospitals.

“For HITC, however, the number of ion radiotherapy treatment sessions for a patient is normally shorter but it also depends on the nature of the tumour.

“For example, it takes about four fractions in one treatment course for liver cancer or lung cancer. It takes about 12 fractions for prostate gland cancer or pancreatic cancer.

“Chondroma (benign tumours) or head and neck tumour treatment usually take around fractions. Four fractions can be done in one week. So, a patient can complete the treatment within one to four weeks, roughly one third of traditional radiotherapy, or half of proton therapy.

“Although the cost for this treatment might be comparably higher than chemotherapy and surgery, the success rate in stopping the cancer justifies the cost,” he said.

Asked on how Heavy Ion Therapy is better than targeted gamma radiotherapy treatment, Dr Lee replied that while both treatments are good, they have different indications.

“Gamma knife treatment is mainly for deep brain tumours, but not appropriate for solid tumours at other parts of the human body,” he said.

He said international patients who fit the treatment standard are also welcome to consider the new technology available at the hospital.

“We have received many inquiries from Southeast Asian countries as well as China.”

Dr Lee also noted that this was achieved despite Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

He voiced his discontent with the WHO, which had rebuffed Taiwan’s entry into the world body despite the country’s exemplary public healthcare management during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taiwan, at the height of the pandemic in 2020, earned global praise for its Covid-19 management, having successfully limited virus transmission among its 23 million population.

Dr Lee said Taiwan had been seeking observer status in the WHO since 1997.

“We were praised for our handling of the pandemic. Sadly, we have yet to be able to participate in the WHO’s decision-making process or even receive timely information from the organisation.

“Taiwan’s participation in the WHO would allow us to share our expertise and experience with other countries and learn from their experience in order to provide efficient healthcare to all.”

Source: New Straits Times


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