Surgeon-oncologist Anatolii Skums saves the lives of Ukrainians with difficult diagnoses every day, participates in the treatment of wounded soldiers and constantly improves his skills by studying with the best specialists in Europe, the USA and Japan.
Anatolii became the winner of the “Talents for Ukraine” grant program from the KSE Foundation. The doctor says that he spent the received $5,000 grant on one of these foreign internships – to use the acquired advanced knowledge and experience for the treatment of Ukrainians. After all, more than 1 million cancer patients are officially registered in Ukraine today.
We talked with Anatolii about the importance of public awareness of cancer, the state of oncology surgery in Ukraine and raising the professional level of our doctors.
Tell us about your participation in the “Talents for Ukraine” grant program, how did you use the received grant?
I recently returned home from an internship at one of the world-famous clinics – Humanitas Research Hospital (Italy). The internship here was made possible thanks to a grant from the KSE Foundation. I am fortunate to have won a grant and have the opportunity to adopt advanced medical practices. I used to invest my money in trips and practice, and it is not cheap.
Tell us more about the internship. What did you learn new?
For a very long time, I wanted to get an internship with this professor, who specializes in extremely complex operations on the liver with multiple metastases. This medical institution is a world leader in this field and gave me the opportunity to learn new surgical techniques and features of a personalized approach to the treatment of liver tumors.
Perfection has no limits. When you reach a certain level and implement the knowledge and surgical techniques into your practice, you begin to feel that something is missing somewhere and that you can do better. In world medicine, something new, newer methods are constantly appearing. Accordingly, it is necessary to constantly maintain a high level in order to stay at the top and provide the best care to patients. I want to be sure that I did everything possible.
After getting to know European medicine, are you returning to work in Ukraine?
Exactly. This is not my first internship abroad: before that, I was in the United States, Japan, and Europe, and had the opportunity to learn world best practices from the best specialists. I apply everything I have seen and learned in practice in my native country.
Why did you choose the profession of a surgeon?
I come from a medical dynasty, so I decided to connect my life with medicine from an early age. I consider surgery to be the most radical of its branches, where you can solve the problem here and now, and, accordingly, see an instant result.
Not everyone can become a surgeon, is it necessary to have a steel character?
A person gets used to everything and can do much more than he thinks. So it seems to me that anyone can become a surgeon if there is desire and perseverance. It’s just that a person must have a certain character, because surgeons are also different – some are better, some are worse, some deal with the same cases, some look at the problem much more broadly. We are growing professionally, and various metamorphoses may occur with us in the future.
Has the number of oncology patients increased in Ukraine recently?
In our country, oncological diseases have global trends, that is, all types of cancers common in our country are identical to those that people suffer from far beyond the borders of Ukraine. It must be admitted that the mortality from the disease is higher in Ukraine, because, unfortunately, we often lack early diagnosis. Not all people have access to the most modern surgical treatment, chemotherapy, radiation and so on. Accordingly, our statistics in this regard are somewhat worse. We need to work on its improvement. Currently, lung cancer, breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer are the most common among Ukrainian oncology patients.
Can the level of stress that Ukrainians are currently experiencing affect the fact that cancer will flourish in the future?
Unlikely. This can affect the development of a number of other diseases, but not the frequency of cancer.
What is the current trend in the effectiveness of cancer treatment?
The situation is changing, and that is why I was in Italy for an internship. Currently, we have a case with a patient with the fourth stage of cancer, with metastases in the liver. We were taught to treat such seriously ill patients, and I plan to effectively implement this experience in Ukraine. We have already partially implemented it, because in 2019 I studied for 3 months in Japan, it was there that the development and implementation of these methods began.
Is oncology surgery currently developing in Ukraine?
Many specialized centers with new, modern equipment are gradually appearing, and the number of specialists in certain areas of oncology is increasing. But for more global systemic changes, much more effort is needed.
Do you think there are enough cancer doctors in Ukraine?
There are enough of them. But, for example, in Europe or the USA there is a general level of specialists who meet certain requirements and have certain qualifications. In Ukraine, sometimes there is a gap – there are super high-class, world-class specialists, but the opposite also happens. We need to raise the general level.
Cancer is often diagnosed in the late stages. Why do you think we don’t have a culture of systematic check-up?
We have a higher mortality rate from oncological diseases precisely because they are diagnosed at rather late stages. Usually, people do not have a formed position on the need for examination. But in reality, the examination does not take much time. Instead, an examination once every few years can detect the disease in its early stages, or even detect a pre-oncological condition or premalignant formations. They can be removed and cancer prevented in this way. And, of course, there is a financial component here, because the examination costs a certain amount of money and I think that sometimes people are just afraid to even ask and find out the price. It is not expensive, but lack of knowledge about it is a barrier.
Why can a person get cancer?
There can be a lot of factors here, especially alcohol consumption, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to this. All this increases the risk of cancer. We do not fully know the true causes of oncology. Not every person who smokes will get lung cancer. It occurs in a small percentage of people when there are disturbances at the cellular level.
How did the full-scale invasion change Ukrainian medicine?
The war puts a heavy burden on the health care system. In addition to the fact that we are currently treating sick civilians, providing surgical assistance to patients, and rescuing wounded soldiers.
What is your prognosis, is it possible to invent drugs for cancer?
As soon as we finally understand the nature of genomic mutations and the root causes of the appearance of tumors, then we will come closer to solving how it can be influenced. There are already oncological and hematological diseases that are successfully treated with medical drugs, immuno- and chemotherapy. Today we have many examples of cancer drugs, but this, unfortunately, only applies to a small number of pathologies. Therefore, specialists and scientists have something to work on.