Managing the increase in cancer cases in Oulu, Finland

As the population ages, the number of cancer cases in Finland is growing. Learn how Oulu University Hospital is using smart resources to meet the challenges ahead.
Andrea Lutz
Published on June 24, 2024
Finland offers first-class cancer care nationwide, where the country’s five-year survival rate is among the highest in the world. Two out of three cancer patients recover, and many more lead a good life despite the disease.[1]  Cancer cases with a poor prognosis are becoming increasingly rare in Finland, and the life expectancy of patients with incurable cancer is rising as new treatments are developed.[2] Despite the good news, as the population ages, the number of cancer cases in Finland is growing dramatically. 
<p>Hanne Kuitunen, Chief Medical Officer at Oulu University Hospital, says, “Today, we’re seeing a rapid development of new treatment techniques. But we also have significant challenges for the future: Do we have enough financial resources to implement effective treatments? And will we have enough human resources – cancer care professionals – to treat these patients?”&nbsp;</p><p>Oulu University Hospital serves patients throughout northern Finland, which has approximately 741,000 inhabitants and accounts for more than half of the country’s territory. Founded in 1973, the hospital is affiliated with the University of Oulu and serves as a teaching hospital for the Faculty of Medicine.</p>
<p>In 2022, Siemens Healthineers joined forces with Oulu University Hospital in Finland to form a ten-year impactful <a href="https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/services/value-partnerships" target="_blank">Value Partnership | Oncology</a>, which includes the delivery and installation of medical imaging and therapy equipment as a service, covering several digital solutions to support workflow efficiency, as well as advanced training.</p><p>Furthermore, the partnership supports the implementation of new technologies, the development of the quality of diagnostics and care, and the improvement of workflow efficiency. It also offers resources for scientific research projects. Through the combination of Siemens Healthineers and Varian, the partners want to enhance the hospital’s diagnostic and therapeutic performance and thereby increase the quality of care for patients throughout the region.&nbsp;</p><p>The partnership was initiated as part of the broader renewal plan for Oulu University Hospital’s facilities. It is considered a key factor toward their goal of being one of the most innovative and modern hospitals in the world by 2030. “Our Value Partnership is one of the cornerstones for realizing this vision,” says Jaakko Niinimäki, Service Center Manager at Oulu University Hospital.</p>
<p>Soile Komssi, Head of Enterprise Services Nordics and Baltics at Siemens Healthineers, is confident: “Thanks to this partnership, our customers will be able to free up their resources, from technology management to actual patient care.”&nbsp;</p><p>For example, innovative applications based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) are already helping save human resources by providing time-saving support for routine activities.&nbsp;</p>
<p id="isPasted">Finnish oncologists are trained in both oncology and radiotherapy, enabling them to refer patients more accurately to the right treatment. Today, the hospital is on the cutting-edge of cancer treatment. Kuitunen: “We’re focused on the most difficult cancer treatment, including the treatment of demanding lymphomas and hematological diseases, radiotherapy, cell therapy treatments, and demanding sarcoma and testicular cancer treatments. In addition, we offer treatments that aren’t yet available elsewhere in Finland, including<a href="CAR%20T-cell%20treatments"> CAR T-cell treatments</a> .”</p><p>The team of cancer experts is actively involved in national and international research networks, and that kind of collaboration between cancer researchers and doctors lays the foundation for increasingly personalized care. “To guarantee successful and more patient-oriented therapy, it’s important that our treatment chains are functional. That allows us to do the right things at the right time for the right patients,” Kuitunen points out.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p>

CAR T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy in which so-called T-cells are genetically modified so that they can effectively localize and destroy cancer cells.

<p>Multimodality imaging plays a central role in cancer care. Kaisa Lehtiö, MD, Specialist in Radiation Oncology, explains the benefits: “Using computed tomography (CT) in conjunction with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is our clinical routine. We can make our treatment plans more precisely than in the past. CT shows certain things like bones very well, but the better soft tissue contrast of MRI enables a much more accurate determination of certain organs like the prostate.”</p>
<p>Radiation therapy has become a primary treatment method for many cancer patients. However, patients with a specific tumor type and stage are often treated with a standard dose, ignoring variations in dose-response. But for the Oulu team, with the help of MRI, they can more precisely plan the therapy according to their patient's condition, leading to more effective treatment.&nbsp;</p><p>MRI allows the experts to accurately see soft tissue changes that cannot be seen in CT alone, for example in brain tumors, tumors of the head and neck region as well as liver tumors. And the ongoing development of this technology will continue to create new options in the future, as Lammentausta explains:</p>
<p id="isPasted">MRI also plays an important role in the treatment path, even before radiation therapy is planned. “Its role is central, for example, in the treatment of breast cancer when <a href="neoadjuvant%20treatment">neoadjuvant treatment</a> &nbsp;is given,” says Lehtiö.</p><p>And <a href="https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/magnetic-resonance-imaging/options-and-upgrades/clinical-applications/4d-mri" target="_blank">4D MRI</a> significantly improves the quality of care in treatments like lung stereotactic radiotherapy.</p>

Treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumor before the main treatment - usually surgery - is given.

<p id="isPasted">Outstanding technology, medical gold standard treatment, and personalized patient care all keep Oulu University Hospital on the cutting-edge of patient care. However, the team continues to face the challenge of providing top-notch care efficiently with limited resources.&nbsp;</p><p>As part of the strategic partnership, the team of partners has been developing process optimizations to find ways to improve workflows and staffing models. In a project together with Oulu University Hospital, Siemens Healthineers and Varian experts, the entire radiotherapy patient pathway was analyzed from initial referral through treatment monitoring.&nbsp;</p><p>With comprehensive data analysis and collaboration with the radiotherapy department staff, it was identified that with the new working model, digitalization and workflow adjustments, CT imaging throughput, for example, can be increased by 30 percent with 30 percent lower costs. And by allocating more dosimetrist resources to treatment planning, productivity can be increased by 50 to 100 percent with the same resources.</p><p>Find out where the team was able to plan resource utilization more efficiently:&nbsp;</p>
<p>At Oulu University Hospital, the convergence of a strategic partnership, AI technology, advanced imaging, and personalized treatment planning has led to a significant leap forward in cancer care. The integration of multimodality imaging allows for thorough tumor characterization, which enables customized treatment strategies that can optimize patient outcomes.&nbsp;</p><p>Personalized radiotherapy treatment planning helps ensure patients receive the most effective and targeted therapies while minimizing side effects and helping improve their quality of life. Together these advances mark a transformative shift toward more efficient, effective, and patient-centered cancer care.</p>

By Andrea Lutz
Andrea Lutz is a journalist and business trainer specialized on medical topics, technology, and healthcare IT. She lives in Nuremberg, Germany.