Many people want to go to work despite cancer, says Jorma Sormunen, new Oncologist at Docrates Cancer Center

In addition to oncology, Jorma Sormunen has years of experience in occupational healthcare. He has personally witnessed how important work may be to those suffering from cancer. At Docrates, Sormunen wants to offer compassionate cancer treatment.

Our work is important to many of us, despite the cancer.

Jorma Sormunen (MD, PhD, specialist in oncology and occupational healthcare) knows this very well. Sormunen started as a new oncologist at Docrates Cancer Center at the beginning of January.

– Many people with cancer hope to be able to return to work as fit as possible and, perhaps, even to work during their illness, with special arrangements.

Due to his background in occupational healthcare, Sormunen understands particularly well how cancer and its treatment impact people’s work and their opportunities of returning to work. He also knows that physical activity can considerably improve cancer patients’ quality of life, thus also improving the opportunities for working. This improvement in the quality of life was clearly demonstrated in the pilot project for prostate cancer conducted the year before last at Tampere University Hospital.

It also seems that physical activity promotes the effect of cancer treatments. An article recently published in the Finnish Medical Journal summarised various studies and observed that physical activity during treatment may be surprisingly impactful. It is possible to argue that physical activity corresponds to the effect of a good cancer drug. The mechanism of action is based on factors such as enhanced circulation of blood, which helps medicinal substances travel to the tumor.

The benefits of physical activity in cancer patients will be researched further in a study starting later this year.

– This project is very close to my heart. I hope that some patients from Docrates will also be willing to join the study, says Sormunen.

More physical activity and kindness

The connection between physical activity and cancer is hardly a new topic of research for Sormunen. In 2018, he defended his doctoral dissertation on physical activity and incidence of cancer with a special emphasis on colorectal and prostate cancers. The results of the study were significant on a national scale.

– If Finns engaged in more physical activity, we would be able to avoid hundreds of new cancer diagnoses each year. In terms of protection against cancer, physical activity seems to benefit men slightly more than women.

Sormunen ended up selecting his dissertation topic based on his own interests. He first became interested in oncology when working in the pharmaceutical industry, first as a Specialist and then as a Medical Director. He has also always believed in the benefits of physical activity.

– I have always liked to be physically active, one way or another. I haven’t been to the gym recently, but I enjoy spending time outdoors. However, I constantly feel guilty about not exercising enough. Luckily, my three French Bulldogs and two Westies keep me busy, says Sormunen with a laugh.

He wishes that people would be kinder towards themselves when it comes to physical activity.

– Finns have a habit of thinking that if you can’t exercise for at least an hour, there’s no point in exercising at all. Doing whatever we can, if it’s only for 10 minutes, is always better than nothing. I try to tell people that even a little bit of exercise is good and a little more is even better. It is also important to not feel like you have to grind your teeth and suffer when you’re exercising; physical activity should make you feel good.

– At Docrates, I can help the patients integrate physical activity as part of their everyday lives, says Sormunen.

Compassionate cancer treatment

When finishing his dissertation, Sormunen delved deeper and deeper into oncology. Finally, he decided to quit his pharmaceutical industry job in Belgium. Sormunen had made up his mind to specialise in oncology at Tampere University Hospital.

During his specialisation, Sormunen became familiar with urological cancers, and after completing the specialisation took charge of their treatment at the Tampere University Hospital. Urological cancers are also part of Sormunen’s special expertise at Docrates, in addition to pharmacotherapy.

Before the pharmaceutical industry, Sormunen worked for the Finnish Defence Forces and served as a peacekeeper in Lebanon.

– That experience really pushed me towards occupational healthcare as I ended up planning the occupational healthcare of the Defence Forces in the General Staff.

Sormunen’s path to becoming an oncologist required some spiritual growth.

– Over the years, the thought slowly developed at the back of my mind. I’m extremely pleased to have been able to still experience such growth in my adult life. I feel like my life experience is one of my strengths in oncology as the treatment is more than just technique – it requires compassion. I hope I can convey some of this experience to my patients as well.

Over the course of his life, Sormunen has seen some of his loved ones diagnosed with cancer and faced difficult situations as a peacekeeper.

– Once you’ve experienced some of these moments, you may not even need to tell the patient that you know how they feel. I hope they can sense it without words. In the end, cancer treatment means cooperation, working together. The patient does their bit and the physician does theirs. The physician’s job is to treat the patient professionally and support them through the treatment.