Last updated date: 03-Apr-2023
Medically Reviewed By
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Lavrinenko Oleg
Originally Written in English
Why patients choose South Korea for cancer treatments and which cancer types they treat better
South Korea’s medical background
South Korea is without doubt one of the most advanced and industrialized countries in the world, as it is home of numerous tech giants that lead to progress in a variety of fields. Koreans are eager to study from an early age, making their country one of the top-performing OECD countries in reading literacy, mathematics and sciences. Also, with this appetite for education, South Korea has the world’s most highly educated labor force within the developed countries. From 2014 to 2019, the country ranked first among the most innovative countries in the Bloomberg Innovation Index.
Besides tech giants, South Korea is also the home of advanced medicine. South Korea is offering very competitive first-world treatments for cancer, cardiac and vascular diseases and organ transplants. Also, South Korea’s medical field is also well known for offering great services in other areas such as plastic surgeries and dentistry.
The South Korean healthcare system is 94% private, and the remaining public healthcare units are usually the responsibility of the Universities.
In terms of providing treatment for patients worldwide, the Korea International Medical Association issued a report, highlighting that medical tourism has increased as a result of the foreign patient legislation law in 2009. This law enables foreign patients and their families to obtain longer-term medical visas and authorizes local hospitals to market medical tourism to foreign patients. As a result, medical tourism has become a vibrant industry, making South Korea a host country for providing quality, affordable healthcare services.
Therefore, since 2009, the number of foreign patients coming to South Korea in need for treatments is growing at an average rate of 22.7% annually. Patients from all over the world are looking to start treatments in South Korea as it is one of the most prestigious healthcare services providers globally and statistically, it has one of the best chances for survival and recovery.
Developing healthcare services
South Korea is one of the leading countries in developing and applying cancer treatments and performing organ transplants.
CONCORD is a program that performs global surveillance of cancer survival and the second step of the program published in 2015 provided cancer survival trends for 25,676,887 patients diagnosed during the 15-year period 1995-2009. According to this surveillance, the 5-year survival for stomach cancer was very high in Japan (54%) and South Korea (58%), compared with less than 40% in all other countries. These high survival rates are achieved with intensive diagnosis activity and radical surgery and the striking worldwide differences in survival for stomach cancer highlight the progress in cancer diagnosis and treatment in South Korea. High survival rates were also reported for cancer of the rectum (between 60-69%) and cervix cancer in women (70% or higher).
As reported by the Korean government, survival rates for thyroid cancer in Korea is 99.7% while that of breast cancer is 90.6%. Moreover, cancer mortality is steadily decreasing showing a 19% decrease in 2006 and a 21% decrease in 2008.
These high survival rates can be explained by both the excellence of the medical care, advancements in medical technology and the governmental efforts in screening and diagnosis campaigns but also the continuous research carried out by South Korea.
Korea is number 1 world wide in proving and using proton beam radiotherapy. Proton therapy uses hydron ions (1800 times heavier than electrons) which are accelerated by a cyclotron to irradiate the human body containing cancerous tumours in order to destroy the DNA within these tumours. Proton therapy at the National Cancer Center in Korea is one of the most renowned cancer treatments techniques in Korea.
Not only is South Korea offering one of the most advanced and developed cancer treatments and organ transplants as illustrated above, but it does so in exchange for lower fees than other developed countries. Studies show that a US patient receiving the top tier healthcare services in South Korea saves up between 30% and 80% of the same medical procedure’s price he would have performed in the United States.
Top Medical Centers in South Korea
Here is a short description of South Korea’s top medical centers.
Samsung Medical Center (SMC) was founded in 1994, in Seoul, with the goal of improving the nation’s health through the best medical service, advanced medical research, and development of outstanding medical personnel. Since its foundation, Samsung Medical Center has successfully reached its goal by becoming one of the most notorious patient-centered hospitals.
Annually, patients from all over the world come to Samsung Medical Center to treat a wide variety of cancers, including cervical cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, epilepsy, lung cancer and brain tumors.
Samsung Medical Center is equipped with advanced medical service infrastructure including outstanding medical staff, order communication system (OCS), picture archiving communication system (PACS), clinical pathology automation system, and logistics automation system, SMC is defining a new hospital culture in Korea by being the best hospital in terms of hi-tech medical services and through the provision of genuine patient-centered medical services such as the shortest waiting time.
The Samsung Medical Center is both a hospital and the largest cancer clinic in Asia and it has achieved one of the world's highest cancer and organ transplant operation survival rates. There are 7400 staff members in the Center, including 1200 doctors and 2300 nurses. Each year, SMC hires the country’s best 40 students. The medical specialists of Samsung Cancer Center are cooperating with their homologs from the American Anderson Cancer Center. The effect of this relationship is that it has implemented American treatment standards in the South Korean Medical Center.
The studies show that SMC has performed more than 1800 stomach cancer and 1500 colorectal cancer surgeries. Also, it has set record 5-year survival rates - 89% for patients diagnosed with cervical cancer, 87% for patients diagnosed with endometrial cancer and 78% for patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
With the Research Center for Future Medicine, SMC is continuously presenting excellent research papers based on active research on advanced medicine. Additionally, It was designated as a guidance-style research-oriented hospital to develop new biomedicine that can overcome obstinate cancers.
Since its debut, the Samsung Cancer Center has treated over 50.000 patients and it is continuously doing so, with almost 672.000 patients choosing Samsung Medical Center each year for treatment.
Asan Medical Center (AMC) was founded in 1989, in Seoul and it is the largest hospital in South Korea. It is specialized in oncology, cardiology, cardiac surgery and organ transplant. Around half of the heart transplants in South Korea are performed at Asan Medical Center and the overall rate of success for all organ transplants is 90%.
Each year, patients diagnosed with liver cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain tumor, herniated disk and benign prostatic hyperplasia come to Asan Medical Center from all over the world to be provided with better treatments and to improve their survival rate.
Asan Medical Center has in its composition a Cancer Institute which develops treatments for Blood Cancer, Bone Cancer, Lung cancer and Breast cancer. The medical staff of the Asan Cancer Center is highly trained and specialized in treatments of cancers of the lungs, stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, lymphatic, head and neck. They perform each year 1500 laparoscopic tumor removals, 1900 surgeries for patients diagnosed with gastric cancers; 2000 surgeries for patients diagnosed with breast cancer. In almost 70% of the breast cancer interventions, the breast is preserved. In 30% of the interventions, if the breast is not preserved, the specialists perform the reconstruction of the breast using implants.
Ewha Woman's University Medical Center (EUMC) is a multidisciplinary hospital for women only. It's located in Seoul, South Korea. Annually, patients from Europe, Asia and North America come to EUMC for the treatment of breast cancer, cervical cancer, infertility, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breast disease and ovarian cancer.
The treatment of breast, thyroid, urogenital cancers, and joint replacement — are the clinic's top specialties. EUMC doctors focus on the aesthetic results of the procedures as they perform minimally invasive operations through small incisions so that a woman does not get visible scars.
Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) was founded in Seoul in 1989. It consists of the main hospital, children’s hospital, cancer center and scientific research center. It is considered one of the leading state facilities in the capital of South Korea. It is also the medical center where the South Korean President receives treatment.
Usually, 30.000 patients from approximately 80 countries come to Seoul National University Hospital in order to treat melanoma , brain cysts, brain tumors, ovarian cysts or Glioblastoma.
SNUH has in its composition the Cancer Center which offers first ranked treatments, due to the high success rates. According to SNUH data, the effectiveness of brain tumor treatment after radiosurgery is 90% and the 5 year survival rate after pancreas removal and duodenum is 99%. Also, breast cancer treatment has a success of 91.1% (which is higher than the average US success average of 89.2%), while the treatment success for prostate cancer is at 96.6%.
Annually, at SNUH, there are performed 700 surgical and 600 radiosurgical operations for brain tumors, 1200 breast tumors removal surgeries, 900 surgeries for stomach cancer and 390 pancreatic and biliary tract cancer surgeries.
As there are direct flights to South Korea from most of the biggest cities of Europe, Asia and North America, this country is just an 8 hours trip away for any patient in need. Based on its rigorous educational system, South Korea has created an outstanding medical care and treatment system along with highly-qualified doctors, ready to provide to any patient the highest rates of success for each intervention and the highest 5 year survival rates. The fact that these world leading services come in prices considerably smaller than in other developed countries, have made South Korea one of the top destinations for medical tourism. It is no wonder why more than 2.26 million patients have chosen South Korea in the last 10 years for medical treatments.
Medically Reviewed By
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Lavrinenko Oleg