1970-2000 The largest separate unit

Cancer is turning into an endemic disease

An endemic disease refers to an illness that is suffered by more than one per cent of the population. An endemic disease can in other words be any disease which has a major influence on the population’s health. These types of diseases are or have been in Finland, for example, tuberculosis, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and mental health problems.

The increase of cancer and the advancement of treatment methods forced decision makers to find hospital facilities for the treatment of cancer in the Tampere region. The new Central Hospital of Tampere did not have vacant facilities for this purpose at the end of the 1960s. Thus a decision was made to place radiotherapy operations in the Pikonlinna hospital, where space was available for this function.

As radiotherapy services were almost non-existent in the district, the decision was made to establish a new radiotherapy department in Pikonlinna. The department’s most significant acquisition was a cobalt cannon, the use of which required so called bunker facilities, in other words a therapy room with sufficiently thick concrete walls. The cobalt cannon was donated by the Pirkanmaa Cancer Association.

The cobalt cannon did not, however, produce radiation doses high enough to successfully treat deep lying tumors. This was the reason why the next purchase was a betatron machine. Initially the development of radiotherapy was hindered by the prohibitive costs of procuring modern radiation equipment. The endeavour ran into major financing difficulties, which resulted in the limitation of operations on several occasions. With the aid of the National Board of Health it became gradually possible to properly organize the purchase of new particle accelerators. The Pirkanmaa region was also able to acquire equipment and provide care that met international standards, which constitutionally required investment in treatment planning and diagnostics equipment.

Cancer treatment experienced simultaneously major advances in the field of chemotherapy. In the beginning cytostatic drugs were administered as monotherapeutic regimen until so called combination treatments were introduced. Combination treatment refers to a combination of several cytostatic drugs in an optimal manner. The co-operative development of chemotherapy and radiotherapy required specially trained staff, which was not available in the beginning. It was thus necessary to launch a training program for oncological nurses and radiotherapists in the region. The clinic’s first oncologists and physicists had received their training in other university hospitals.

It was discovered early in the Pirkanmaa region that modern cancer patient therapy includes a variety of psychosocial support services. Supportive measures play a major role particularly at times when curative therapy proves ineffective. The oncology clinic was actively involved with the foundation of the first hospice in the Nordic Countries –  the Pirkanmaa Hospice – in Tampere. Later on influential measures were exerted supporting the establishment of Finland’s first professorship in palliative medicine at the University of Tampere. This provided the impetus for directing more attention in the training of new doctors to the alleviation of pain and other symptoms among seriously ill patients.

At the turn of the 21st century the hospital district offered a standard of care that corresponded to international standards and which was on the same level in all the five Finnish university hospitals. The increase in the number of cancer cases and the combination of various treatment methods did, however, impose new demands, which led to the adoption of science research as the prerequisite for achieving the best possible treatment outcomes. Research activities require close co-operation between the different specialties and research institutes, which was one of the reasons why the oncology clinic was moved from Pikonlinna to the Tampere University Hospital in 2007.

Chief physicians:
1970–1973 Erkki Himanka
1973–1978 Heikki Nuorlahti
1978–2001 Tapani Hakala
vuodesta 2001 Pirkko Kellokumpu-Lehtinen

Chief nurses:
1965–1996 Pirkko Valkama
1997–2002 Pirjo Aalto
2004–2006 Tiina Salminen
vuodesta 2007 Kaija Leino