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The Truth About Cancer

cancer-cellsRecent projections from the Singapore government appear fairly alarming: the report tells us that approximately 50% of all Singaporean men are likely to develop some kind of cancer in their lifetime, while the same is true for approximately 40% of all Singaporean women. Cancer is quickly becoming the number one killer in first-world countries, and given its prevalence, it is likely that we will have to come to grips with it sooner or later.

However, this news need not be all doom and gloom! Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence, nor is it always the end of life as you know it. After all, when one is diagnosed with hypertension or diabetes, do we automatically assume that it is the end of the world? Alarmist statements like “cancer is the leading cause of death in the first world” do not tell you why this is so; that it is because medical science has become so skilled at managing most other diseases that we no longer die from more common problems such as infection.

Cancer is a medical condition that we as oncologists are slowly becoming better and better at managing. For some of the most common cancers – colorectal cancer for men, and breast cancer for women – we now boast of a 90-93% cure rate if we detect it early. A cure means more than the cancer going into remission: it means that we are confident of fully beating the cancer, and that it will never return again. The patients that we cure are able to lead out the rest of their natural lifespan without any compromise in their quality of life.

Unfortunately, due to the stigma surrounding cancer, many of my patients tend to
“run away” when they hear the diagnosis. Some of them waste years seeking second opinion after second opinion, while others simply try and pretend that the diagnosis is wrong, all this while staunchly avoiding medical treatment. This, I feel, is an incredible shame. The earlier the cancer is detected, the easier it is to
treat the condition; every month spent without treatment allows the cancer to become more dangerous and lowers the cure rate. I once had a patient, diagnosed with a 1cm cancerous nodule in her breast, who “ran away” and came back only 2 years later. By that time, however, the nodule had expanded significantly, spreading all the way to lymph nodes on both sides of the body, and her cure rate had gone down from over 90% to 20% or less.

However, even if the cancer cannot be cured, we are still able to ensure a high quality of life for the patient. With the right medication and attitude, It is very possible to lead a long and fulfilling life even with cancer. Take, for instance, another patient I had who was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer that had spread to the bones. There was no way we could cure her of cancer, but thanks to advances in medical technology, we were able to keep the cancer largely at bay. Diagnosed at 33, she is now 52 and has spent the last 19 years of her life productively and happily, keeping her job as a beautician and even finding time to travel occasionally.

Cancer is most definitely not the end of the world, and if we were to work together, doctor and patient, we will most certainly be able to beat it together as well.


Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital

38 Irrawaddy Road #09-41, Singapore 329563

Opening Hours:
Mon - Fri: 9am - 6pm
Sat: 9am - 1pm

Contact number: 6339 0233