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Understanding Cancer

A cancer diagnosis, especially an early one, need not signal the end of life as we know it, nor should it be viewed as a terminal sentence.

seeing-doctorThe rising rate of deaths by cancer in first-world countries strikes a grave chord in the hearts of Singaporeans, especially in the wake of a recent government report predicting that up to 40% of Singaporeans are likely to develop some form of cancer during their lives.

The first news of a cancer diagnosis is never easy to accept. Memories of friends or loved ones battling the disease generate images in our minds, and these images may or may not be valid. There is no question that the word cancer strikes fear in people of all ages, as its incidence rises globally. To make matters worse, patients often know very little about the facts of cancer management, and this creates an even deeper level of fear and certainty of death.

Some patients deal with it squarely and swing into action to get as much information and advice as they can. Others, tragically, go into denial and hope it will go away if they do nothing. Fear keeps them from taking the necessary steps and ironically, reduces their odds against the disease because they lose precious time.

The fact is that oncologists are getting better and better at managing cancer, helped by rapid and continual advances in medical science. This especially applies when it is detected early. Common cancers like colorectal (colon) cancer and breast cancer can have a more than 90% cure rate with the earliest detection. Dependent on the type and stage of cancer, there may be the possibility of complete cure, with little-to-no significant impact on daily functional life. A complete cure, contrary to what many people believe, is not the same as the disease going into remission. A cure means that the cancer has been beaten and is not expected to return.

Early detection a must
Cancer that is detected in early stages is easier to treat. That’s why regular health checks and screenings are important for older people and those with a higher than average risk of developing cancer. Early detection involves the vigilance of the individual to changes in the functioning of their body and also certainly medical screening tools, like mammography for women aged 40 and above, which can detect tumours that are not large enough to be felt with monthly breast self-examination, or those which are not showing any symptoms yet.

The chances of cure depend to a large part on the stage and type of the cancer diagnosed. Different types of cancer present different survival rates at different stages. In third stage colorectal cancer, for instance, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy treatment can still succeed in curing the patient. And where cure is not possible, new medical therapies may keep the cancer at bay for a long period of time.

Likewise, with the advice of their oncologist, understanding the specific issues presented by each stage of the cancer can help a patient make decisions which are more sensible.

Cancer survivors and patients managing cancer can go on to live good quality and happy lives. As we gain improved molecular and genetic level understanding of cancer, newer therapeutic modalities can be devised. Advanced therapies, treatment modalities and medication can help overcome the side-effects of treatments, more easily handle existing symptoms and give much better therapeutic results. In fact, entire programmes in hospitals and research centres are devoted to helping cancer patients and survivors adapt to new lifestyle habits that limit the spread or possible recurrence of cancer.

The growing number of cancer survivor programmes and the higher incidence of cancer survivors who live long and happy lives after treatments have proven that cancer is indeed not unbeatable.


Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital

38 Irrawaddy Road #09-41, Singapore 329563

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Sat: 9am - 1pm

Contact number: 6339 0233