Nuclear power is often associated with arms race between nations
in the media. However, if used for healthier purposes, it also provides groundbreaking cancer treatment. The Korea Cancer Center Hospital (KCCH) under the Korea Institute of Radiological & Medical Science (KIRAMS) applied cyber knife - the latest nuclear-powered treatment equipment – for the first time in Korea and has utilized nuclear power for treatment purposes for the last 5 decades, contributing to advancement of radioactive medical technologies, especially radioactive isotope diagnosis and treatment. The following is summary of my pleasant talks with Rhee Chang-Hun, the president of KCCH.


Rhee, Chang-Hun

- President of Korea Cancer Center Hospital
- MD, Seoul National University Graduate School of Medicine
- Neurosurgeon, Seoul National University Hospital
- Director of Cyber Knife Center, KIRAMS

 I understand KCCH is a government-funded institute established in 1963 and operating 18 cancer centers based on its 50 years of know-how in cancer treatment. Please fill me in with more details.
It started from the Institute of Radiation Medicine Research Center in 1963, when cobalt treatment – the best radiation treatment back then – was first introduced in the hospital. Then in 1969, gynecologic cancer checkup vehicle was introduced to provide traveling clinic for the purpose of promotion and treatment of uterine cancer. From then on, people began to think that they have to go to the KCCH if they have cancer.
KCCH has strength in efficient cooperative treatment system consisting of skilled cancer specialists. The hospital has 18 cancer centers including Thyroid Cancer, Breast Cancer and Uterine/Ovarian Cancer. The Breast Cancer Center excels in particular, treating more than 20,000 outpatients and doing more than 700 surgeries a year. The Thyroid Cancer Center is also doing more than 700 surgeries a year, providing minimal invasive surgeries such as endoscopic surgery for early-stage thyroid cancer patients to minimize scars and improve patient satisfaction and operating the largest number of radioactive iodine treatment rooms in the country (12 in totals) to help post-surgery recovery. The Lung Cancer Center is boasting excellent surgery performance with full recovery rate of the 1st stage lung cancer at 90% and that of the 2nd stage at more than 50%. The center introduced mediastinal lymph node dissection for the first time in the country to dramatically enhance full recovery rate of lung cancer. The full recovery rate of the 3rd stage lung cancer there is consistently over 30%.
In addition to the cancer centers, the Radioactive Tumor Department equipped with the cutting-edge radioactive treatment tools such as cyber knife and rapid arc is the living history of Korea’s radioactive treatment and leading the country’s radioactive medicine as the pioneer in this field.

The general public may feel unfamiliar with or prejudiced against the word “Radiological” itself. Why was it named as “the Institute of Radiological and Medical Science”?
The Korea Institute of Radiological & Medical Science was called Radiation Medicine Research Center when it was first established in 1963. KIRAMS has Research Institute of Radiological & Medical Sciences, Korea Cancer Center Hospital, National Radiation Emergency Medical Center, Korea Heavy Ion Acceleration Project, Korea Drug Development Platform Using Radio-isotope and Dongnam Institute of Radiological & Medical Science under its wings. The word “Radiological” was used to name the institute because, from its birth, its goal is to build a comprehensive cancer research and treatment system where radioactive research, clinical test and science technology development as well as cancer treatment are conducted in one place. The younger generation may not be familiar with the brand power of KIRAMS, but for most of the general public, KIRAMS is recognized as a group of cancer specialists.

Does your hospital have unique radioactive treatment?
When we use nuclear power for medical purposes, the major diagnosis and treatment tools are radiation and isotope. Our hospital is different from others in that it can produce and study isotope by itself. The hospital is the best cancer hospital with its long history and achievements in isotope diagnosis, treatment and application. In addition, KIRAMS has a center dealing with the isotope-using industries, nuclear power generation and nuclear arms accidents. The center is called National Radiation Emergency Medical Center. Without KIRAMS, it would not have been possible for airports in Korea to prepare regulations and respond to the explosion of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The institute is also preparing for isotope accidents and treatment of radiation exposure by creating national network of nuclear power plants, military bases and university hospitals.

The hospital is also leading cutting-edge cancer diagnosis and treatment by introducing cyber knife surgery for the first time in Korea. Please tell me more about this.
The cyber knife was introduced back in 2002. Cyber knife is an advancement of gamma knife. Gamma knife is used for radiosurgery using gamma rays created from a radio isotope, cobalt, but it can only treat the head. On the other hand, cyber knife can be used for radiosurgery of the whole body as well as the head. Our hospital introduced this equipment for the 2nd time in Asia following Japan, but when we first applied it, cyber knife was being used for head surgeries only in Japan.
KCCH commercialized cyber knife for treatment of body of stomach including liver, lung and pancreas for the first time in the world. A number of papers on treatment of brain tumor, spine and spinal cord tumor were published in a global academic journal (SCI), proving its high academic performance as well as the world’s best treatment skills. Our International Education Center is transferring our radiosurgery treatment skills using cyber knife to countries all over the world including China, Taiwan and Thailand. 
Since its birth in 2002, the KCCH Cyber Knife Center has performed more than 3,000 clinical treatments. The 2nd cyber knife was introduce and has been applied from February 2013. 

I understand KCCH is also providing social contributions such as
free check-ups and education for the less privileged at home and abroad on
an ongoing basis?

Yes. During the Sewol ferry disaster last year, KCCH recruited volunteers among our medical teams. Many volunteers provided both treatment and emotional support for the bereaved. Accordingly, we dispatched the 2nd group of volunteers. KCCH was the only hospital that dispatched specialized medical volunteers 2 times and the total number of volunteers was 37. Its contribution was recognized by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. I think KCCH was able to make greater social contribution thanks to the volunteers who were more than willing to understand and help the patients placed in difficult situation.
Cancer risk is increasing globally and it is causing more serious social and economic disturbance in developing countries. IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) in partnership with WHO for enhancement of national cancer control strategy of developing countries is being performed by KIRAMS. The institute is also involved in various joint projects since it concluded the partnership agreement with IAEA in 2011 for eradication of cancer in developing countries.

What are the future strategies and goals of KCCH?
We have 2 major projects for the future. The first one is development of Korean-style heavy ion medical accelerator.
Heavy ion medical accelerator, a.k.a “Dream of cancer curer”, is made with independent technology of Korea. I told you that the cyber knife is used for whole-body radiosurgery, but this accelerator has much stronger effect as it has much higher energy than cyber knife.
The heavy ion is better than the existing X-rays in that it delivers 20-30% of radiation before it arrives to the cancerous part within human body, delivers the remaining 70-80% of radiation to the cancerous part and leaves no radiation behind, which prevents damage of normal tissue. The Medical Heavy Ion Accelerator Center will be completed in Gigang County in Busan by 2017 and the medical heavy ion accelerator will play a major role in Korea’s next generation medical technology and R&D business. 
The second project is implementation of platform for development of new concept treatment technology. The project based on KIRAM’s radioactive medical technology is in progress with a goal of building infrastructure for development of new radioactive medicine for treatment as well as research of new drugs using radioactive isotope in response to expansion of radioactive medicine market at home and abroad. The platform building project will build the only new drug development support facility using radioactive isotope in Korea by 2017. The facility is expected to make great contributions to Korea’s drug industry by saving time and cost for new drug development using radioactive isotope.

Recently, Korea is becoming increasingly popular destination for
medical tourism. 

Cancer treatment provided by KCCH for foreign patients is much higher quality than the one they get in their home country. We recently cured a patient from Mongolia who had given up on treatment due to nervous tissue problem. 
I think KCCH will be a competitive cancer-specialized hospital if such success on foreign patients continues.