Korean Lessons on Gastric Cancer

A group of gastric cancer specialists from Brazil who are visiting Korea this week were duly impressed.

The five visiting doctors from Sao Paulo had entered the operating room at Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital in Sinchon, western Seoul, on Monday, to watch Dr. Noh Sung-hoon perform gastric surgery on a cancer patient.

During the procedure, Noh removed a Korean patient’s lymphatic gland, and then, very skillfully, he removed 70 percent of the patient’s stomach. Observing the process, the five specialists repeatedly exclaimed “Fantastic!”, praising Noh’s use of electro-cauterization instead of a surgical knife.

Noh introduced the pioneering method in 1996, and it is now widely used, especially in the U.S. and Japan.

Electro cauterization is the process of destroying damaged tissue using heat conduction from a metal probe heated by an electric current. By using this method, a surgeon can cut surgery time in half while at the same time minimizing bleeding.

Dr. Gamma-Rodrigues, one of the Brazilian doctors who observed the operation, said Noh’s expertise has been instrumental in Korea becoming a world leader in gastric cancer operations.

Korea has the highest rate of gastric cancer in the world – 41.42 people out of 100,000 have gastric cancer, while the average global rate is 19.8 people, according to 2010 data by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But at the same time, Korea is considered the world’s leader in gastric cancer surgery.

The country ranks at the top in survival rates after gastric surgery.

According to the Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics, Korea’s five-year survival rate is 63.1 percent, followed by 62.1 percent in Japan, 26 percent in the U.S. and 22 percent in Canada.

Korea is hosting the four-day 9th International Gastric Cancer Congress at COEX, southern Seoul, for four days this week.

The main speaker at the event is Sam Yoon, a Korean-American and a professor at the Harvard University School of Medicine. Yoon is considered an authority on tumor operations. But despite his expertise, when it comes to gastric cancer, he, too, visited Korea to gain knowledge.

In fact, when Yoon’s mother, who resides in the U.S., was diagnosed with gastric cancer in 2008, Yoon brought her straight to Seoul National University Hospital.

“I believe he flew his mother into Korea because Korea has many surgeons with plenty of experience in performing gastric cancer operations and it has the highest survival rate,” said Dr. Yang Han-kwang, a professor at Seoul National University Hospital’s Department of Surgery. “Dr. Yoon’s mother received successful surgery and went back to the U.S.,” Yang said.

Korean surgeons on average perform 500 to 600 gastric cancer operations per year.

“The more surgeons perform operations, the more developed the medical practices become,” said Kwon Sung-joon, a professor at Hanyang University Hospital. “When I tell other doctors at international conferences that Korean surgeons perform an average of 600 gastric cancer operations annually, they are astonished,” he added.