Breast cancer has become the most common cancer in Thailand and two thirds of patients are diagnosed at advanced stages, according to Suandok Breast Cancer Network Most women do not have access to the essential medicines which are not on the national drug list and thus not reimbursed by the government. In 2015, Suandok Breast Cancer Network designed a project to provide metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients in northern Thailand with timely access to treatment, including radiotherapy, psychological support, and pain management.
Suandok Breast Cancer Network is a non-profit organisation in the university hospital, Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital. This hospital serves as a training and education centre that provides highly specialised medical care for patients in Chiang Mai and regionally in five provinces of northern Thailand. With over 10 years of experience, Suandok Breast Cancer Network’s aim is to increase access to treatment and care.
“The SPARC MBC Challenge grant has enabled my team to not only maintain but also to expand the network. We have upgraded our online queuing request system to serve both early stage and metastatic breast cancer patients.”
According to Suandok Breast Cancer Network, when the SPARC project was launched in Thailand, there were no medical oncologists or breast surgeons in district hospitals or even in provincial hospitals and the majority of MBC patients were taken care of by general surgeons. Suandok Breast Cancer Network received a SPARC MBC Challenge grant in 2015 to deliver via an expert medical team, lectures and workshops to general surgeons in provincial hospitals, on important topics such as proper referral procedures and MBC treatments to achieve best possible care for MBC patients.
Suandok Breast Cancer Network also established an express queue online request system available on their website for emergency palliative radiotherapy for MBC patients. In conjunction with this they recruited and trained local health volunteers in a variety of topics including, providing MBC patients with tailored care, psychological support and strategies to help screen, locate, and encourage MBC patients.
A patient navigation programme was also launched to empower patients to manage their disease and achieve a higher quality of life. The local volunteers personally visit patients and provide encouragement and information pertaining to their ongoing treatment. Local activities to disseminate information and promote breast cancer awareness are also organised by Suandok Breast Cancer Network volunteers.
In the first three months of the project, Suandok Breast Cancer Network raised awareness among 28 doctors, and 99 nurses through lectures and workshops about proper referral procedures as well as MBC treatments of in five provinces.
The advanced referral system was improved and covered in all remote districts, with the exception of four district hospitals due to the limited resources in healthcare personnel.
225 health care volunteers were trained in patient navigation to improve patient support. Over a period of nine months they treated 66 MBC patients in a timely manner. Five years after having received the SPARC grant the MBC navigation work is continuing and the online queuing system is still in use.
Organisation website: Suandok Breast Cancer Network
Social media: Suandok Breast Cancer Network Facebook page
UICC article: "SPARC grant awardees - Meet Imjai from Thailand", with Imjai Chitapanarux, Chair of Suandok Breast Cancer Network
Published scientific article: Integration of breast cancer care in a middle-income country: learning from Suandok Breast Cancer Network (SBCN)
(Information from the project description and context is compiled from the SPARC reports)