What are the dangers of seeking cancer treatment abroad?

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By Causenta Wellness

What are the dangers of seeking cancer treatment abroad?

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, patients and their families often understandably panic. Few people are emotionally or physically prepared to learn that the fight of their lives is in front of them. After recovering from the initial shock, patients and their families often regroup with a bold statement of, “Let’s fight this with everything we’ve got.” 

Did you know that the survival rate in the United States is significantly higher than in many other countries? Unfortunately, healthcare costs in the United States are also much higher than in other countries. In fact, the average cost of treating various types of cancers easily ventures into the six-figure range. Is there a reasonable alternative?

For many patients and their families, the answer is medical tourism. The internet is filled with websites promising excellent outcomes from chemotherapy, surgical procedures, and more while immersing patients in resort-like environments in another country. More than that, these promises come with the opportunity to save a substantial amount of money. What do you have to lose?

If this sounds too good to be true, this is because it very well may be. What can happen when you seek chemotherapy, radiation, or the surgical removal of a tumor in a foreign country? Let’s find out.

Lost in Translation

Many patients have trouble understanding medical jargon in their native tongue. Imagine the challenges of communicating effectively with a doctor or nurses who may speak little or no English. Even in countries where English is commonly spoken, thick accents and geographic nuances can make communication challenging. What happens when you cannot communicate clearly with your medical team?

Patients pursuing medical tourism generally feel a sense of empowerment by taking control of their treatment. However, this vanishes when care is placed in the hands of a doctor and nurses with whom you cannot communicate. 

Questionable Qualifications

Saving money on chemo, radiation and surgeries is important, but at what cost? There are many reasons why the survival rate in the United States is substantially higher than in other areas. For example, extensive testing, the use of advanced technologies, and superior medications are some of these reasons. The qualifications of medical professionals also rank at the top of that list. What are the qualifications of physicians and surgeons in other countries?

Unfortunately, that question is difficult to answer. In the United States, physician qualifications are well-known and easy to identify. Physicians are held to high standards with regards to certification requirements and continuing education. Online reviews are prevalent, and word-of-mouth referrals are common.

Obtaining accurate and detailed information about medical professionals in other countries is often more challenging. This begs the question, “Whose hands are you placing your life in?”

Poor or Unenforced Regulations

Medications and treatments are heavily regulated in the United States. Many patients go abroad for promising cancer treatments and medications that are not available in the U.S. These options sound promising, but why are they not available in the country with one of the highest survival rates?

The reason is simple. They have not yet been proven to be safe and reliable. Regulatory agencies here recognize inherent risks with them. Are you willing to take those risks?

Keep in mind that even proven and effective medications and treatments available in the United States cannot be compared to similar options in other countries. Domestic regulations are strictly enforced. Counterfeits, diluted formulas and other issues are not as problematic in the United States as they are in other countries. 

Facility Concerns

Patients who consider healthcare tourism may be enticed to take a vacation to another country by online images of a gorgeous facility in an exotic or charming location. Websites often advertise a resort-like environment that may be much more appealing that the stark medical environments at home. However, have you ever been duped by false advertising?

Any medical facility where you seek treatment should be immaculate and well-equipped. In fact, a foreign facility should be backed by an international accreditation, such as Joint Commission International. It is much more important to be in a facility that is clean than one that is beautifully decorated.

What else should you look for in a facility located abroad? The facility should be properly outfitted to handle all types of medical emergencies onsite. This means that it should have an operating room, an ICU and other essential features. All staff should be credentialed.

Concerns related to medical tourism do not end there. What else should you be concerned about?

Resistant Bacteria

Drug-resistant bacteria are increasingly common in the United States, but this is even more problematic in many foreign countries. In some other countries, filthy facilities and poor practices lend themselves to the increased spread of bacteria in healthcare environments. Can you simply get an antibiotic to fight an infection?

The administration and usage practices of antibiotics in other countries has led to increased resistance there. It may be more likely for you to be infected by various types of bacteria while in another country, and it may be much more difficult to treat the infection. When you are in fight for your life, you cannot afford to take such chances. 

Risks of Returning

Surgical removal of tumors is common, effective, and expensive. Taking a short trip abroad for a scheduled tumor removal surgery may seem like a great idea, but returning home immediately after surgery is not recommended. Blood clotting is a normal part of the healing process after surgery, but blood clots can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some situations. When clots form in blood vessels, a pulmonary embolism and other serious or potentially fatal issues can develop. 

Blood clots are most common within 10 days after a surgical procedure, but the risk lingers for up to three months. The risk of blood clots increases with air travel, and this is particularly true during a long flight when movement is restricted for many hours. Many major airlines will not permit passengers to fly immediately after surgery.

If you have recently received a cancer diagnosis, you may be ready to throw everything you have into your fight. While the cost of treatment is a critical factor to consider, are the many risks of healthcare tourism worth the savings? In many cases, you can see that the answer is NO. 


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