Wednesday 29 February 2012

Big push to fight colorectal cancer as cases continue to rise

By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2012

THE health authorities are stepping up efforts to fight colorectal cancer, the most common cancer here.

All Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 50 and above are being invited to go for screenings as the number of cases continues to rise.

By next month, nearly 100,000 people would have received letters from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) inviting them to visit family doctors to discuss screenings.

The campaign started last July.

The doctors will advise them on how to do the screening at home and where to send the completed kits for processing. Any abnormal results are followed up on, and patients are sent to a specialist if necessary.

Those with lower incomes who are eligible for subsidies have to pay only the doctor's consultation fee and not the $30 for the kit.

In total, 900,000 people aged 50 and above will receive the letters in the next three years, said the HPB.

Next month and in April, anyone aged 50 and above can pick up a free test kit at the 71 Guardian pharmacy outlets islandwide.

Kits are also available at any of the 18 polyclinics from March 5 to 9.

These kits are funded by the Singapore Cancer Society to mark Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month next month.

The number of cases of the disease is increasing, going by figures released by the Singapore Cancer Registry yesterday.

About 8,200 new cases were diagnosed between 2006 and 2010, compared with about 7,900 cases from 2005 to 2009.

Associate Professor Tang Choong Leong, who heads the colorectal surgery department at Singapore General Hospital, pointed out that the number of deaths has also increased slightly.

Some 3,435 people succumbed to the disease from 2006 to 2010, a rise from the 3,373 in the five-year period starting from 2005.

'It's possible that the cancer is still being detected too late,' Prof Tang said.

One way of identifying the cancer early is to make use of the faecal occult blood test, which checks for blood in stools and can detect the disease even at an early stage.

The Singapore Cancer Society has been giving out free test kits since 2003. Last year, 34,069 kits were given out, with 66 per cent of recipients sending in their stool samples for testing.

The year before, 71 per cent of the 32,416 kits given out were returned. Of these, 28 people were found to have colorectal cancer.

Despite the wider reach, Associate Professor Lim Soon Thye, a council member of the Singapore Cancer Society, said the figure is but a fraction of the number of people aged 50 and above in Singapore, which stands at more than one million.

'There is significant room for improvement,' said the medical oncologist from the National Cancer Centre Singapore.

But he noted that the return rate for the free test kits is quite good compared with that in other countries.

People who receive the letters from the HPB have a pick of 700 private general practitioners whom they can make appointments with.

Test results will be ready in one month.

Retiree Ronald Lee, 72, has benefited from regular screenings.

The former sales and marketing officer has done the test every year for six years. Last year, it helped him detect the cancer at an early stage. He required surgery to remove 15cm of his colon but did not have to go for chemotherapy.

Mr Lee encourages others to take the step to protect their health.

'The test is a simple thing. It is also free of charge, what more do you want?' he said.

'If you have cancer, isn't it better to have it taken out early?'

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