Cancer in the Thailand workplace

Cancer in the Thailand workplace

Rising cancer risks and lifestyle safeguards

Cancer strikes anxiety and fear in the minds of many. This is especially so in a place like Thailand where more and more people are becoming health conscious and more familiar with the concept that “health is wealth”. Population size is fast approaching the 70 million benchmark. As the population ages, so does the number of cancer patients in Thailand. The number of new cancer cases in Thailand in 2018 according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) stood at 170,495, as reported by Globocan, while the number of deaths stood at 114,199 in the same year.

Cancer causative factors like air pollution, contaminated street food, non-potable tap water, among others, have become a part of daily lives for many people. For example, factors like poor air quality owing to the presence of PM2.5 particles lingering in our air for weeks on end in Bangkok and provinces including Chiang Mai, have affected many people’s health. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) confirmed that outdoor air pollution is a cause of cancer. Tiny dust-like particles just one millionth of a metre wide, called ‘particulate matter’, make up a part of outdoor air pollution. The smallest particles known as PM10 and PM2.5 are linked to lung cancer caused by pollution.

Lung cancer sufferers are increasing and lung cancer has become the leading form of new cancer cases in Thailand for both men and women. In 2018, liver cancer caused the highest number of deaths which accounts for about 20% of the total cases. Breast cancer is still the main form of cancer for Thai women and ranked the 4th highest cause of death in 2018. As for men, liver (1st) and lung (2nd) cancer cases have the highest incidence rate in Thailand.

Types of treatment available

Some patients undergo a single type of treatment for their cancer. There are also plenty of patients that undergo various treatment combinations, for example surgical procedures together with chemotherapy or other forms of therapy.

Dr. Chatchai Sribundit (M.D) from Akesis Life Bangkok has always believed that it is important that patients and their relatives, know, understand, and ask the treating Doctor the right questions. Some might not be aware of the different forms of treatment available and also the pros and cons of the therapies. Patient education will enable them to have more thorough information about the disease process, treatments available, alternative procedures, side effects and possible prognoses, and in turn help them decide on the best curative path.

For instance according to cancer.gov, cancer treatment methods can be segmented into: Conventional, Integrative, Complementary, and Alternative.

  • Conventional treatments are therapy methods that are commonly used by hospitals and most medical professionals. Some of the treatment methods are surgical intervention, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, brachytherapy and hormone therapy.
  • Alternative medicine in cancer treatment refers to the use of non-standard medical therapies like Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Oriental Medicine and other alternative procedures.
  • Complementary medicine treatments are therapies used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments. For example reducing certain side effects of chemotherapy may be achieved with acupuncture, as pointed out by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • Integrative medicine, in turn, takes a different approach. It combines conventional treatment methods with both complementary and alternative therapies. It is very patient-centred, making use of natural products, modification of lifestyle, diet, a mind-body-spirit healing journey together with conventional treatments like chemotherapy, and has been shown to be a safer treatment method.

Cost of treatment in Thailand

Thailand has extremely affordable healthcare if compared to many other countries around the world. Thailand has become one of the world’s top medical tourism destinations, especially within the Asia-Pacific region. Local people that have access to government-funded healthcare, can get treatment at a very affordable cost.

However, treatment in some of these facilities can necessitate longer waiting times, inferior medical technology, and less medical expertise as compared to those found in private international hospitals in the country. Nowadays, with the emphasise on private insurance, a high number of patients would rather choose to be treated in hospitals or medical centres that provide the best treatment available, even if the price tag is higher. According to various sources, when it comes to getting treatment in private hospitals, it is estimated that treatment in Thailand will cost 60%-70% less than in private hospitals in the UK or USA. For expatriates living in Thailand, it is obvious that staying in-country for cancer treatment may be the best option.

Support groups and coping mechanisms

Being diagnosed with an illness like cancer can be a great shock and at the same time a very emotionally intense experience. The team at Akesis Life strongly believes that patient support is extremely important and is one of the five pillars in Dr Chatchai’s treatment philosophy. It can come in the form of family members, peer support groups or even mental health professionals. Emotional Wellness is half of the battle and can greatly affect one’s immune system. According to the Mental Health Foundation Scotland, having the right emotional and mental support at the right time is crucial for patients.

Prevention is better than cure

As the number of cancer sufferers climbs, one cannot over-emphasise the sheer importance of preventive care. As Dr. Chatchai highlighted in an earlier article, almost one third of cancer cases are preventable and, most importantly, “cancer is not a death sentence”. Therefore, looking after one’s own health to minimise the chance of exposure to causative factors in any form of medical condition or disease can be the best safeguard.  For example with cancer, screening tests can help detect malignancies in their earliest stages. However, one should always be alert for symptoms of the disease.

- The American Cancer Society’s ‘CAUTION’ Danger Signals:

  • C: Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • A: A sore that does not heal
  • U: Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • T: Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere in the body
  • I: Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
  • O: Obvious change in a wart or mole
  • N: Nagging cough or hoarseness

- Health Harvard’s Ten Commandments for Cancer Prevention:

According to the website health.harvard.edu, The 10 Commandments of Cancer prevention are:

  1. Avoid any forms of tobacco, including being exposed to second-hand smoke.
  2. Eat healthily. Reduce your consumption of saturated fat and red meat. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  3. Exercise as often as possible.  It will help protect you even if you don't lose weight.
  4. Stay lean. Obesity increases the risk of many forms of cancer.
  5. Limit or avoid consumption of alcohol. Excess alcohol increases the risk of cancers.
  6. Avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation.
  7. Avoid exposure to industrial and environmental toxins such as asbestos fibres, benzene and others like them.
  8. Avoid infections that contribute to cancer, including hepatitis viruses, HIV, and the human papillomavirus.
  9. Make quality sleep a priority. Poor and insufficient sleep increases are associated with weight gain, which is a cancer risk factor.
  10. Get enough vitamin D. Evidence suggests that it may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, and other malignancies.

Author: Ezree Ebrahim, Business Development Consultant (Healthcare), Akesis Life by Absolute Health. For further information, please contact: ezree.ebrahim@akesisoncology.com

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th. Dataconsult’s Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.


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