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HIC Instituto de Cáncer Becomes Operational and Starts to Treat Patients

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Following the installation of state-of-the-art equipment and training of highly specialized staff, the Institute is now positioned to be a leading oncology center in Latin America. After receiving authorization from the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the Instituto de Cáncer has opened its doors and has begun to treat adult and pediatric patients diagnosed with the disease.

Currently, services offered at the facility include treatments for patients with various kinds of cancer that may require radiation, chemotherapy, inpatient monitoring, and/or oncological surgery. According to Jaime Poveda Velandia, Vice President of HIC, the hospital is ready to receive cases involving patients admitted in accordance with local law to receive priority treatment for serious physical symptoms, or those referred to the institution as a result of an external consultation.

Cancer, an epidemic on the rise 

According to the Global Cancer Observatory, which belongs to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are more than 70,000 new cases of cancer each year in Colombia. Of all diagnosed cancer cases in the country, the most common forms are prostate, breast, stomach, colorectal, and lung cancers; additionally, figures from the National Cancer Institute show that stomach, colorectal, and lung cancer have the highest mortality rates. Though prostate and breast cancer are now being detected earlier, very complex cases are still seen. Lung and stomach cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages, making treatment more challenging.

For children, one kind of cancer is especially prominent: according to reports from the Sistema Nacional de Vigilancia en Salud Pública–Sivigila (National System of Vigilance in Public Health in Sivigila, Colombia), leukemia accounts for the highest percentage of cancer cases confirmed in children under the age of 18, totaling nearly 42 percent in 2015. The next-most-common form of childhood cancer involves the appearance of tumors in the central nervous system, accounting for an estimated 11 percent of cases.

Outlook for cancer patients 

According to Diana Lorena Valencia Libreros, a pediatric hematologist at HIC, there are high mortality rates in Colombia because the treatment for cancer patients is divided between different institutions; the result is loss of continuity in medical care and treatment delays. “That happens because the patient receives chemotherapy in one center, surgery in another, and they do the follow-up in a third…so the patient slips through the cracks since he or she doesn’t have one doctor handling the whole situation.” According to Dr. Valencia, the launch of the HIC Cancer Institute means that a team of experts will provide each patient with complete service involving interventions specific to his or her case. This will be achieved through interdisciplinary meetings, in which the different specialists discuss procedures to be carried out to obtain the best-possible results from treatment. “Thanks to all of the hard work that has gone into building this institute, we are going to become comprehensive care units. I, as an oncologist, will sit down with the surgeon, the radiation therapist, and the palliative care provider in charge of pain management to analyze the diagnosis and to organize the work plan,” she explains.

Now, with the opening of the HIC medical complex in the metropolitan area of Bucaramanga, UPMC is— for the first time—sharing its clinical, technological, and management knowledge about cancer in South America. Evaristo Vega Fernández, HIC’s Clinical Management Director says, “Establishing this type of agreement with a world-class partner allows our special guests second opinions so that we can hold medical boards where decisions can be made together with peers from the U.S. institution. This means that hospitalized patients will receive real-time and in-person care. The consulting also includes the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment and human talent selection processes.” Dr. Vega emphasizes that the services have been designed within a model built to benefit each user.

Cutting-edge technology 

Although hiring highly qualified personnel has been a main focus of the organization, HIC’s health care technology advisor Luis Javier Jaramillo Jiménez says that the institute is equipped with the latest generation technology in order to achieve reliable diagnoses and treatments. Doctors in the Radiology Department explain that the hospital has diagnostic imaging equipment that they use depending on the disease and according to the affected organs.

The advantage of the tests—which are performed to observe tumors in the body and to determine the presence or absence of reappearances after the person receives therapy—is that they expose the patient to less radiation, and in turn avoid side-effects. The medical complex also has a Nuclear Medicine Department to make diagnoses using bone scans and PET/CT. This department is the only one in the region, and Mr. Jaramillo Jiménez says that it is one of the most accurate tools for determining if the clinical oncology treatments are working, taking into account whether the size of the lesion has increased or decreased.

HIC has purchased the equipment with the most advanced features on the market for radiation treatment: a Varian TrueBeam Stx, which is a linear accelerator that allows clinicians to target cancerous tumors in any part of the body without affecting healthy tissue.

Equipped with motivated staff and advanced clinical technology, this new facility opens its doors to serve anyone in an emergency regardless of their type of insurance. Additionally, agreements are being signed with different Health Promotion Entities to engage in external consultations. The hospital has also set up a phone line so that people can check to see if their HPE has established an agreement with the institution.

In this way, the HIC Cancer Institute hopes to attend to around a thousand patients per month; in doing so, UPMC International and UPMC Cancer Center President Charles Bogosta explains, we will bring “the highest-quality and the best experience in Latin America. Our main philosophy when working with partners abroad is to ensure that people do not have to leave their home country to receive medical care.”