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COLUMNS
Cancer — Fighting an Informed Battle
"14 people die from cancer daily."

"1 in 3 Singaporeans die of cancer."

"33 people are diagnosed with cancer everyday." [1]

These irking numbers and facts are thrown in our way every single day. They unnerve us, frighten us, and prompt us to leap to our feet and start taking control of our health and our lives. While some may disregard these figures, it is the undeniable truth that cancer has indeed affected people from all walks of life.

Is cancer that dark, spine-chilling creature in children's books that settles itself beneath your bed, that creeps up beside you when you are wallowing in your dreams, completely and utterly vulnerable? Maybe. But, is cancer truly unbeatable? Can nothing stand in cancer's way, to effectively block its path that ultimately leads to the dead end we've fought so hard to avoid?

Main Treatment Types

Most established hospitals in Singapore provide the basic types of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

After surgery to remove the tumour, the doctor would then encourage the patient to go under chemotherapy, which uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. There are many different types of chemotherapy drugs, and each prescription depends on the type of cancer the patient is diagnosed with. However, chemotherapy also destroys normal cells found in areas like hair follicles and the digestive tract. Going under chemotherapy or radiotherapy (where high energy x-rays are used to target and destroy the cancer cells) is to ensure that the remaining cancer cells are destroyed. Any remnants may result in the recurrence of the cancer. [2]

Radiotherapy branches into External Beam Radiation (EBR), Stereotactic Radiosurgery and HDR Brachytherapy. EBR is particularly useful for large tumours, while Stereotactic Radiosurgery may be preferable for smaller tumours or tumours growing in the brain. HDR Brachytherapy involves the placement of radioactive sources in or just next to a tumour. It delivers a large dose of radiation directly to the cancer cells with minimal exposure to normal tissue. [3]

Hospitals ranging from public to private ones are each equipped with an Oncology department, ensuring that cancer treatment is easily accessible to all patients. Furthermore, there are numerous organisations that operate to help people struggling with cancer in Singapore. Organisations such as Parkway Cancer Centre and National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) provide a highly-skilled, multidisciplinary team of consultants who will accommodate the patient's needs and customised treatments. [4] With help and advice readily available and within reach, all patients are definitely capable of putting up a tough fight with cancer.

Side Effects

Weighing the pros and cons of each treatment option may be tough. We need to consider the possible side effects of each treatment.

Some of the common side effects due to chemotherapy include hair loss, fatigue, pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Other hidden side effects are breathlessness and dizzyness due to low amounts of red blood cells in the body. Low concentration of platelets may cause nosebleeds and bleeding gums among cancer patients due to a reduced efficiency of blood-clotting and sealing of wounds. [5]

On the other hand, radiotherapy has a unique set of side effects like skin problems. Many patients who receive radiation therapy experience temporary dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. Other common side effects include fatigue and pain at a specific body part where treatment was received. [6]

Can You Prevent the Recurrence of Cancer?

As Fred Van Amburgh once said, "All the advice in the world will never help you until you help yourself."

The odds of cancer recurrence depend on the type of cancer, and while we place our utmost faith in the treatment system in Singapore, we do play a part in ensuring that we reduce the rate of recurrence as much as possible by staying healthy.

Out of all the women who were cured of ovarian cancer, 40% experienced a recurrence in 2 years, while 45% experienced a recurrence in 5 years after treatment. [7] Doctors have urged patients to not blame themselves for a recurrence, even if they do everything right. For instance, research has suggested that the risk of breast cancer recurrence might be higher in women who are obese and do not consume fruits and vegetables sufficiently. Not only that, prostate cancer recurrence risk might also be higher in men who eat food with a lot of saturated fats. [8]

Because obesity increases the chances of getting cancer, it is no surprise that doctors encourage patients to engage in regular physical activity. Nothing too strenuous, as long as it keeps the body fit. Eating healthy and taking supplements are other ways to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. [8] Smoking also increases the incidence of cancers and lowers the overall survival among cancer patients. Tar in cigarettes is carcinogenic, which puts the smokers at risk of lung cancer. This explains why cancer patients who smoke have a 38% higher risk of dying than non-smokers. [9]

If we are aware that unhealthy lifestyles do affect the chances of survival, shouldn't we try to take a step in the right direction? As long as we remember that cancer tends to whisk us away at the unlikeliest of times, staying alert is probably the best way to resist cancer's advances.

Other Treatment Types

Are there only these few types of treatment? Certainly not. Scientists and health researchers from all over the globe are putting in their all in discovering and inventing new yet better ways to cure cancer. As many are worried about the recurrence of cancer, the option of hormone therapy is made available in some countries.

How does hormone therapy work? Certain cancers depend on hormones to grow. When suitable, doctors will recommend this option of treatment especially for breast cancer or prostate cancer patients. Hormone therapy prevents cancer cells from using or getting the hormones they need. In some cases, patients need to undergo surgery to remove glands that produce the hormones, or take medicine that prevents the release of the hormones responsible for the disease. [10]

Another method of treatment that may seem obscure to many of us is immunotherapy, also known as targeted or biological therapy. This involves stimulating the patient's immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells. The patient is only required to consume immunotherapy drugs which fulfill the body's needs, such as providing it with antibodies.

Living With Yourself

There are countless of cancer success stories, ranging from stage four metastatic cancer stories to unique and challenging ones. I remember reading an inspiring story of a survivor by the name of Sarah Merchant, who had stage IV breast cancer. Still, Sarah had remained steadfast on the path to recovery. [11] It was apt to describe the path as blurry, as if a fog had settled itself up ahead, the destination unclear and unappealing. However, Sarah had made sure that her path wasn't a dwindling one.

"I鈥檓 not here to tell you what I lost. I鈥檓 here to tell you what I鈥檝e gained." These were the exact words she'd said, providing victims of cancer all around the world that final push to discover their inner strength. It was normal to grieve, to feel down, to feel as if the world was against you. Why me? And soon, you will realise that the question is unanswerable. Cancer may strip your life away bit by bit, and there will be those who fade along with life, those who are unable to deal with the harshness of reality.

"It鈥檚 a hard road to travel: always being on some sort of treatment, living scan to scan. When it comes down to it though, you just have to live."

To those fighting cancer, the world is here to help, and no one is alone. Living in the present and living with yourself will be tough, but never miss the little snippets of happiness that may come your way.

References:

  1. https://health.asiaone.com/health/health-news/cancer-statistics-singapore-world
  2. https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/understanding-cancer/
    how-is-it-treated.html
  3. https://www.treatcancer.com/blog/difference-chemotherapy-radiation/
  4. https://www.parkwaycancercentre.com/
  5. https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/treating/chemotherapy/
    side-effects-of-chemotherapy/possible-side-effects.html#12208
  6. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/radiation-therapy/
    side-effects-radiation-therapy
  7. https://sucrap.com/2016/08/14/survival-rates-recurrent-ovarian-cancer/
  8. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorshipduringandaftertreatment/
    understandingrecurrence/can-i-do-anything-to-prevent-cancer-recurrence
  9. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/more-in-singapore-getting-cancer-but-
    survival-rates-also-up
  10. https://www.singhealth.com.sg/PatientCare/ConditionsAndTreatments/Pages/
    Cancer-Treatment.aspx
  11. https://www.healthline.com/health/stage-4-breast-cancer-stories-survivorship#4

Written by: Ann Yeong
A teenager who is overly active on Wattpad, crafts random stories using her very own imagination, and is obsessed with surfing the web for pictures of hamsters at the oddest times. She adores stretchy pants too.

 

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APBN Editorial Calendar 2018
January:
Obesity / Outlook for 2018
February:
Searching for the fountain of youth
March:
Women in Science - Making a difference
April:
Digestive health in the 21st century - Trust your guts
May:
Dental health - The root to good health
June:
Oncology / Biotech landscape in APAC
July:
Water management / Vaccination
August:
Regenerative medicine / Biotech start ups
September:
Digital healthcare / 3D printing
October:
Bones / Breast cancer
November:
Liver health / Top science research nations & institutions
December:
AIDS / Breakthrough of the year/Emerging trends
Editorial calendar is subjected to changes.
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