New, better treatments on the way

Parkway Cancer Centre’s Dr Tan Wu Meng looks at how screening, diagnosis and treatment have improved – and are still improving.

Even while cancer continues to affect many Singaporeans each year, we can look forward to new and better treatments – thanks to ongoing intensive efforts by doctors and researchers to find better ways to screen, diagnose and treat the disease as early as possible.

Constant advances in science have produced many new possibilities for the management of cancer at all stages – from more accurate pathological tests and improved surgical procedures and technology to new treatment therapies that promise to improve treatment outcomes.

This is important because cancer is still a real concern in Singapore. Every day, 37 people are diagnosed with the disease here.

For men, the top cancers diagnosed are colorectal, lung and prostate, while the biggest killers are lung, colorectal and liver cancers. For women, the top cancers diagnosed are breast, colorectal and lung cancers, while the biggest killers are breast, lung and colorectal cancers.

One of the most important revolutions we have seen in cancer care is the advent of targeted therapies. This is possible because our knowledge of the cancer cell itself has deepened.

By deciphering or decoding the DNA of cancer cells, we are better able to distinguish the different subtypes of cancer, and therefore understand what makes some cancers tick. This means we have a greater insight into how they grow – and therefore, how we can slow this growth.

Take lung cancer, for example. Science has now made it possible to test for mutations in the EGFR and ALK genes, which identify subtypes of lung cancer.

If we can spot genetic mutations in a tumour, we can treat patients more effectively through treatments that target a particular subtype. This is known as precision medicine; it makes use of genetic changes in a tumour to determine a more precise course of treatment. Targeted therapies can improve our ability to control cancer and improve patients’ quality of life.

Another revolution in cancer treatment is immunotherapy. This helps us to make use of a patient’s own immune system to help fight cancer. Some cancers are able to “camouflage” themselves, thus evading the human immune system. Immunotherapy, however, removes this camouflage, exposing the cancer to the immune system.

Immunotherapy, which first showed promising results for late-stage melanoma, is currently being used to treat lung, head and neck, and many other cancers. With our ever-growing understanding of cancer biology, we will constantly get better at identifying patients with a greater chance of benefiting from immunotherapy.

Singapore’s doctors are constantly updated on the latest discoveries about cancer management, which we hear about when we gather at various professional conferences.

With research resulting in improved tests and better surgical technologies, along with clinical trials showing successful treatment therapies, we are hopeful that these will translate into better treatment outcomes for cancer patients.



Tags: cancer diagnosis, cancer mutation, cancer quality of life, immunotherapy, new ways to treat cancer, pathology, targeted therapy