Singaporeans would be justifiably worried about the spike in cancer cases - by 17 per cent in the four years from 2010 - all the more because the dreaded disease is the No. 1 cause of death here. However, what is reassuring is that about four in 10 cases of cancer may be preventable and that early detection of the disease leads to a better chance of recovery, or at least of surviving longer. The challenge lies in getting people to make changes to entrenched lifestyles and to be more aware of environmental and other external factors that lead to cancers.
For many, it might appear simple enough to resist harmful habits like smoking tobacco, which has been linked to various types of cancer affecting the lung, bladder, cervix and kidney. But for regular smokers, old habits can prove hard to change. Although Singapore has done relatively well in this area - through a 40-year campaign that has yielded one of the world's lowest adult smoking rates of 13.3 per cent - there are still smokers visibly around in public places, often leaving a trail of fumes that others cannot avoid.
It will take a greater push to gather sufficient support for a brave goal of becoming "smoke-free", as the New Zealand government has committed to achieving by 2025. That would not constitute a ban but a reduction of smoking prevalence to less than 5 per cent.
Fighting the scourge of cancer is ultimately a personal battle that calls for unflagging discipline - for example, being serious about maintaining a healthy diet, taking alcohol only in moderation, maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active. Collectively, there should be no let-up in efforts to ensure people pay heed to cancer-prevention messages and go for periodic cancer screenings that the Singapore Cancer Society has been promoting tirelessly. Support should be also given to fresh initiatives like the Cancer Education Bus, a joint project of the National Cancer Centre Singapore and welfare organisation Ain Society, that will help to reach out to more people across the island.
Environmental factors like air pollution - even in countries with cleaner air like Canada - contribute to the rise in cancer cases worldwide. There is reason, therefore, to be mindful of the tiny particulate matter that comes from car exhaust and industrial emissions.
With the country heavily dependent on food imports, there should be sufficient monitoring of the use of pesticides, fertilisers and food additives proven to be cancer-causing. While government agencies and activists can do much to help build certain safeguards, the last mile of prevention has to be walked by Singaporeans themselves - by arming themselves with the facts about cancer, making the right choices, and staying committed to the effort to stay healthy.