'Cancer hotels' are home from home for poorer patients

Updated: 2015-02-10 08:00

By Xinhua News Agency(China Daily USA)

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A gray, five-story building on the southeast corner of Beijing's Second Ring Road is one of the city's burgeoning "cancer hotels", where Sun Yu, from a small village in Hebei province, and her husband pay a daily rent of 40 yuan ($6.40) for one of the 10-square-meter windowless cells.

Sun, 64, who has ovarian cancer, has been a regular visitor at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Tumor Hospital since 2012. Every time she makes the 250-km journey to Beijing she stays at one of the cancer hotels, which are cheap and close to the hospitals.

Sun's cancer was diagnosed in 2012, but her condition was too advanced for surgery at her local hospital. "They told me I only had two years at most. My son said a hospital in Beijing was my last hope," she said.

Sun is one of about 700 patients, most from outside Beijing, who lineup every week at the hospital, reputed to be one of China's leading cancer treatment centers. However, the limited number of beds mean that most patients live in cancer hotels.

China's cancer morbidity and mortality rates are set to keep rising over the next 20 years, according to Dai Min, a researcher at the China National Cancer Center. In 2012, more than 3 million Chinese had cancer, accounting for 20 percent of the global total, while deaths from the disease reached 2.2 million, accounting for 25 percent of the world total.

In Europe and North America, prostate and breast cancers - the most common types - have survival rates of more than 80 percent, but in China, the most common cancers (lungs and liver) have survival rates of less than 30 percent.

China's marked death rate can be attributed to the high number of patients in the terminal stages, according to Cheng Shujun, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering. For example, more than 80 percent of lung cancer patients in Beijing are in the terminal stages, while in Europe and North America the proportion is about 50 percent.

Like Sun, Zhang Qingxiang, from Shandong Province, has ovarian cancer. However, initial examinations by senior doctors at her local hospital found no indications, and by the time Zhang was finally diagnosed, it was too late.

"When the local hospital diagnosed cancer, it was already at the terminal stage because the cancer had moved to other organs. I don't trust them (the doctors) - I want to be treated in Beijing," she said.

In China, the initial examination and diagnosis of early stage cancers is still expensive and limited to a few hospitals in larger cities, leaving almost no chance of early diagnosis for people in rural and poverty-stricken areas.

Cancer is also a heavy economic burden on families and society, even though tens of billions of yuan have been spent on treatments. In 2003, the government started the New Rural Cooperative Medical System to partly cover medical expenses for people in rural areas, but although coverage has extended to more treatments and higher reimbursement rates, most rural patients still can't afford cancer treatments.

According to an NRCMS regulation this year, cancer patients can claim 50 to 80 percent of treatment costs if they are treated in a designated local hospital, but only 35 percent in hospitals outside their home province.

(China Daily USA 02/10/2015 page5)