Coping with Cancer - Viet Nam's Story

3 February 2014
Viet Nam, with its growing population of 90 million inhabitants, is the eighth most populous country in Asia.The country is developing at a fast pace and has one of south-east Asia's fastest growing economies.The number of cancer cases is also on the rise. The National Cancer Hospital in Hanoi is the busiest cancer hospital in the country, dealing with around 5000 patients a day at its three campuses.According to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization, there are around 125 000 new cancer cases and 94 000 deaths each year. These figures are expected to double by 2035.The increasing number of patients is leading to long waiting times for treatment and severe overcrowding in the National Cancer Hospital, with in- and out-patients and their families sharing beds.Nuclear techniques, including radiology and radiotherapy, are critical for the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Viet Nam. But because of a lack of equipment and trained personnel, only around a tenth of patients who need radiotherapy will actually receive it.One patient receiving radiotherapy at the National Cancer Hospital is 60-year-old Nguyen Xuan Bien. A CT scan showed that he was suffering from lung cancer."At first, I felt desperately sad, but now I strongly believe that I can be cured. At this hospital, I've been treated with radiotherapy and the doctors and nurses are very dedicated," he says.Breast and cervical cancer are the two leading causes of cancer deaths and illness in Vietnamese women, accounting for approximately one third of all new cancer cases every year. But currently the country has very limited screening opportunities.One of many women waiting for radiotherapy for breast cancer at the National Cancer Hospital is 39-year-old Ngo Thanh Nga. She is midway through a course of 25 radiotherapy treatments."I wish that there was more support so that the hospital could buy more modern machines to help cure these poor patients. There are too many of them here. With more machines they could diagnose cancer sooner and treat it more efficiently," says Ngo.For over three decades, the IAEA has played a key role in providing cancer-related assistance to developing countries. In January 2014, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited the Nuclear Medicine and Oncology Center at the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi.The IAEA has helped Viet Nam to acquire equipment and has provided training for health professionals in all aspects of cancer control.Many of the medical staff at Bach Mai Hospital have been trained under IAEA projects and doctors from provincial hospitals also come to the hospital to take part in IAEA workshops.The IAEA, through its Technical Cooperation Programme, helped establish the National Cyclotron Facility in Tran Hung Dao hospital in Hanoi.The facility is producing radiopharmaceuticals that are used in several hospitals to diagnose and manage cancer. It plans to expand production to include radioisotopes for the treatment of cancer.One technique that uses radioisotopes is PET-CT. This can be used to diagnose and manage cancer. The clinical management of cancer patients has improved dramatically with the introduction of PET.In Viet Nam, the risk factors for cancer are very high. Almost fifty percent of men are smokers and more than one third of men are using alcohol at harmful levels. There are also problems with environmental pollution and lack of physical activity.In Viet Nam's surging economy, the bicycle is making way for the motorbike. Currently, there are nearly four million motorcycles in Hanoi, for a population of more than six million people. And they are causing severe air pollution.Since many cancers occur in people over the age of 65, the fact that people are now living longer in Viet Nam is also contributing to the rising cancer figures. And due to improved diagnostic methods, more cancers are being detected.Despite the support from the IAEA and the dedication of the medical staff, statistics from the WHO indicate that the cancer survival rate is very low in Viet Nam. According to the doctors, over 70 percent of people are diagnosed with cancer at stage three or four. By this stage, it is too late to cure them. <br /><br />© IAEA
Last update: 14 October 2014