Accessible cancer care, screenings for those in need

National Cancer Centre Singapore medical director William Hwang (left) and Singapore Cancer Society chief executive Albert Ching at the signing of a memorandum of understanding yesterday.
National Cancer Centre Singapore medical director William Hwang (left) and Singapore Cancer Society chief executive Albert Ching at the signing of a memorandum of understanding yesterday.PHOTO: NATIONAL CANCER CENTRE SINGAPORE

Cancer centre, society in $2.6m partnership to identify patients likely to be at risk

The National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) have announced a partnership that aims to make cancer detection, prevention and treatment more accessible to patients who require financial aid.

Representatives from both organisations signed a memorandum of understanding at the NCCS building next to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) yesterday.

Under the agreement, NCCS and SCS will launch a genetic screening programme to identify patients with a genetic predisposition to cancer, said NCCS medical director William Hwang.

A total of $2.6 million will be co-funded by NCCS and SCS to support the programme over the next three years.

Prof Hwang said the programme will extend subsidised screenings and prevention measures to patients' families, who are more likely to be at risk.

"Currently, the cancer genetics team at NCCS sees about a hundred patients a week, but the needs are actually far more than that," he said.

An estimated 500 patients seen at NCCS each year have a genetic predisposition for cancer.

 

The programme is expected to benefit more than 400 patients this year and almost 800 patients in 2021, about a quarter of whom are expected to require financial aid.

Community Health Assist Scheme card holders can get up to $1,000 a year in financial assistance under the programme.

Associate Professor Joanne Ngeow, who heads the Cancer Genetics Service at NCCS, said: "In one in 10 cancer patients, regardless of the sub-type, the genetic factor is the predominant reason why they have a significantly higher risk of cancer compared to the generation population, a six to tenfold increased risk."

There are currently more than 400 known cancer predisposition syndromes, Prof Ngeow said.

She added: "Extensive research has shown that if we monitor these patients carefully with increased or earlier imaging, or surveillance like colonoscopies, they do as well as patients without a genetic predisposition."

Taking a genetic test costs just under $1,000 and is an out-of-pocket expense for most patients.

Prof Hwang said many patients are deterred by the high costs of follow-up procedures such as regular scans, blood tests and annual colonoscopies, even after they are found to have a genetic predisposition.

Some may allow their cancer screenings to lapse, resulting in later detection and increased medical costs in the long term.

"We are trying to remove the cost barrier for patients, which can not only cause many more problems for themselves, but also creates a burden on the healthcare system as well," he said.

SCS chief executive Albert Ching said that the society, a voluntary welfare organisation which is currently based in Tanjong Pagar, will share the new NCCS building when it opens on the SGH campus in 2022.

The move will make it easier for cancer patients to get support before, during and after treatment, such as financial aid, welfare, rehabilitation or hospice care, said Mr Ching.

Besides the screening programme, NCCS and SCS will continue to collaborate on cancer education and prevention events, such as campaigns, road shows and exhibitions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline 'Accessible cancer care, screenings for those in need'. Print Edition | Subscribe