Sunday, 28 December 2014

Move to help rehabilitate cancer patients

New service will help them relearn things like speaking and swallowing
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

THE first concerted effort to help rehabilitate cancer patients, after their treatment has been completed, is being spearheaded by the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS).

Its new service - part of a broader push to plug the gaps in cancer care - will help survivors of the disease relearn things like speaking and swallowing.

"We're looking at that space where (the cancer patients) have done their treatment and they are at home," said SCS chief operating officer David Fong.

"During the recovery phase, these people also need help to adjust back to life in many different aspects."

On average, 12,000 people in Singapore are diagnosed with cancer every year. Even after successful treatment, they may have difficulties with simple things like swallowing or balance, especially if they have lost muscle function while ill.

SCS chairman Choo Eng Chuan said that such rehabilitation services are common in countries such as the United States, but harder to find in Singapore outside a hospital setting.

"Now it's going to be structured - helping people balance, helping people swallow," he said.

More details on the move, including the official launch date, will be announced next month in conjunction with SCS' 50th-anniversary celebrations.

"We'll start it small, step by step," Mr Choo added. "But we want it to be effective at handling all permutations (of rehabilitation)."

While the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) also helps to rehabilitate its patients, its doctors feel that the new service will "definitely help" to meet existing needs. "It is the first such coordinated effort in cancer management," said Associate Professor Lim Soon Thye, who is head of the centre's medical oncology division.

"It allows rehabilitation services to be brought to the community instead of being hospital-based, and thus provides greater access to patients."

Earlier this year, the voluntary welfare organisation convened a task force of doctors, physiotherapists and other rehabilitation specialists to study the needs on the ground.

Next month, the Singapore Cancer Society will also be starting two new initiatives targeted at helping newly diagnosed cancer patients cope.

The first is a booklet with information on treatment options, financial matters and coping strategies, which will be given out at three public hospitals.

Lower- to middle-income cancer patients can also apply for one-off financial assistance of up to $1,000 in cash that can be used to offset any expenses occurring at the outset.

"A lot of them want to see another doctor, to get a second opinion," Mr Choo said. "But if you don't have the means, it's a problem."

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