Cancer care in Korea

Increase in the number of cancer patients in Korea is continuing. According to statistics released by Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, 243,837 patients were newly diagnosed with cancer in Korea in 2018, marking about total of 2 million cancer patients, equivalent to one in 25 Koreans[i].

In terms of national healthcare capacity, Korea’s medical technology is well advanced. In addition, the government is conducting a national cancer screening project to the low-income public with stomach, liver, colon, breast, cervical, and lung cancer screening to provide financial support such as the government’s policy of strengthening security by running health insurance for cancer patients.

However, despite such positive environment, there remains a room for improvement for the nation to achieve truly patient-centered cancer treatment environment. For example, the number of doctors in Korea is 2.4 per 1,000 people, the third smallest among OECD countries[ii], so it is difficult for patients to fully communicate with doctors and understand their disease and treatment option. According to a research, 37 percent of cancer patients do not understand their cancer staging nor their treatment goals accurately.[iii]

Furthermore, the psychological health of patients during their cancer treatment is a very important factor that determines the outcome of treatment, but patients themselves and society have low awareness of the psychological difficulties faced by the cancer patients. The stigma and negative perception on psychological treatment is prevalent in Korea, and patients are not receiving proper psychological support.

All.Can Korea initiative

All.Can Korea is the first Asian branch of All.Can International, consisting of patient advocacy groups, healthcare professionals, public health policy experts, legal counsellor, and an industry partner, BMS Pharmaceuticals Korea Ltd. In December 2020, the launch of All.Can Korea was approved by the All.Can International Board, followed by official announcement through a virtual press conference in Korea on 10 December 2020.

Under its slogan ‘Living with cancer beyond the treatment, towards healthier days’, All.Can Korea selected the following key projects.

  • Campaign for improving awareness on the need for psychological support for cancer patients
  • Improvement for the inefficiencies in cancer diagnosis for the low-income bracket
  • Further refinement and improvement of the policy and laws which support various patients

Activities and milestones

Patient Survey

Prior to its launch, All.Can Korea surveyed 495 cancer patients to assess the psychological, economic, and social difficulties they face during diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment. The main results of the survey are:

  • While the psychological support of cancer patients is essential, the patients themselves lack awareness and are not receiving sufficient support.
  • Unbalanced health equity occurs at the start of cancer diagnosis depending on patients’ income. Since low-income bracket become aware of health issues diagnosed at the hospital after experiencing symptoms or discovering advanced stage of cancer, inefficiencies in the early diagnosis and treatment phases indicate greater attention and improvement are required.
  • Improvement on policy is required to address the various difficulties of cancer patients

References

  1. Korea central cancer registry, 2018 National Cancer Registration Statistics
  2. OECD Data, Doctors. Available at: https://data.oecd.org/healthres/doctors.htm
  3. SHIN DW, et al. Patients' and family caregivers' understanding of the cancer stage, treatment goal, and chance of cure: A study with patient‐caregiver‐physician triad. Psycho‐oncology, 2018, 27.1: 106-113

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