Founder of cancer registry

Prof Shanmugaratnam, who is the father of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, still conducts fortnightly seminars for trainee doctors, and consults on difficult cases referred to him by colleagues from public and private hospitals.
Prof Shanmugaratnam, who is the father of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, still conducts fortnightly seminars for trainee doctors, and consults on difficult cases referred to him by colleagues from public and private hospitals.PHOTO: ST FILE

Who: Prof Kanagaratnam Shanmugaratnam, 94, emeritus consultant at National University Hospital and NUS emeritus professor of pathology.

Notable achievement: Established the Singapore Cancer Registry (SCR) in 1967 to provide data on cancer trends in the country; largely responsible for developing the World Health Organisation's classification of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a cancer of the upper respiratory tract that disproportionately affects Chinese people.

In 1950, keen to observe local disease patterns, Prof Shanmugaratnam started a card index of all histologically diagnosed cancers in Singapore. These are cancers diagnosed through tissue examination.

But not all cancers are diagnosed histologically. Other methods, such as radiology (the use of imaging techniques, including X-rays and ultrasound) are also used, especially when tumours are located in inaccessible locations such as the lungs. So, Prof Shanmugaratnam founded the SCR to capture all cancers, regardless of how they are diagnosed.

While electronic medical record systems have simplified disease registries' maintenance, their importance has not diminished.

"Cancer patterns are changing so rapidly that what happens in the next 10 to 15 years may not be representative of what happened before," he says.

Sim Shuzhen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Founder of cancer registry'. Print Edition | Subscribe