Local specialist to join world tour sharing cancer knowledge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2008, 12:00am

A surgeon from Hong Kong will join a group of six international specialists in head and neck cancer this month for an unprecedented international tour aimed at sharing methods for diagnosing and treating the disease with other doctors.

The six-week educational programme, organised by the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies, begins on September 29 and will take place in 11 places in Europe and Asia, including India and the mainland.

The lone Hong Kong participant, William Ignace Wei from the University of Hong Kong's department of surgery at Queen Mary Hospital, said it was the first time such a programme had been organised.

'Head and neck cancers are complicated, and there are not many head and neck specialists around the world. So it will be good for us to get together to share our cases and treatment methods,' he said.

According to the federation, there were about 4,500 specialists in head and neck oncology in the world in 2000.

During the tour, Professor Wei will focus on sarcoma - cancers of supportive and connective tissue such as bone, cartilage and fat - salivary-gland tumours and reconstruction after ablative surgery.

Three per cent of patients with head and neck cancer are diagnosed with salivary-gland tumours, and Professor Wei noted an increasing trend in the number of patients suffering from the condition over the past decade. However, he said the change reflected the larger number of early diagnoses.

Symptoms of salivary-gland tumours include hard and swollen cheeks. In critical cases patients' faces may be deformed.

Professor Wei said surgery could lead to complications for some patients.

'For those who have deformed faces, they may not be able to close their mouths, making it hard to keep their saliva from dripping. Or some people may not be able to close their eyes as a result of a facial deformity,' he said.

Reconstructive surgery for patients who have been treated for such conditions became more common in the 1980s. Within Asia, Hong Kong is a leader in performing reconstructive surgery for people with head and neck cancer.

As many as 200 cases of head and neck cancer are treated at Queen Mary Hospital each year, and 80 per cent of these patients require reconstructive surgery.

'Apart from making one look better on the outside, reconstruction also helps to restore functions for the patients,' Professor Wei said.

Skin from different parts of the body is used during reconstructive surgery. The latest technique, which Hong Kong surgeons have been using for the past two to three years, uses skin from the lower leg for head and neck reconstruction.

So far, about 30 such procedures have been done in Hong Kong.

'We hope to share our knowledge and expertise with other doctors in the programme, so that more patients can benefit in the future,' Professor Wei said.

The federation expects its training tour to attract 200 to 300 doctors at each gathering.

The group would like to conduct the tour once every two years.