It was a sombre start to the year with news of celebrities’ deaths from cancer — David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Rene Angelil, Celine Dion’s husband. While it does seem like cancer has become more prevalent with news like these, there are steps that you can take to prevent the disease. We find out more from a panel of medical oncologists from Oncocare Cancer Centre and from our Health Screening Centre physician.
“Prevention and screening are both important in the fight against cancer,” said Dr Kevin Tay, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
A simple start, according to Dr Tay, is to make adjustments to our lifestyle and habits. “We now know that our immune system plays an integral part in fighting against cancer and there is still more to be learnt through research. We certainly can apply some basic principles in order to maintain a healthy immune system. For e.g., stop smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night, exercising regularly, a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables and finally, learning to minimise stress in our lives.”
The other measure is cancer screening. However, not all cancers have effective tools of screening. Only three types of cancers have been shown to have a reliable and effective screening tool, he added. “They are breast, cervical and colon cancers. Hence, it is important to heighten awareness in the community on the importance of screening as it can save lives.Any cancer that is detected early is always potentially curable.”
However, these tests are only a report card of your health status at that time and does not mean that medical conditions will not develop afterwards. “It really depends on what was done for the patient. A screening will only pick up health conditions that are present at the time of screening. Regular screening helps to detect conditions that may develop after the previous screening. That is why it is important to go for screenings at the recommended frequency,” said Dr Ang Geok Lian, Physician, Mount Alvernia Hospital Health Screening Centre.
Will cancer screening help eliminate the possibility of getting cancer? The answer is obviously no! Whether a person will get cancer depends on genes (family history of cancer), environment factors (pollution etc) and lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking, obesity, lack of exercise) and certain infections.
Medical oncology is advancing. “It is a field with the fastest and most rapid innovation. Almost every day, from basic science, translational to the bedside, there is an explosion of knowledge and understanding of illness and hence new therapies,” Dr Tay Miah Hiang, Medical Oncologist explains.
With a specialty interest in lung cancer, Dr Leong Swan Swan, another medical oncologist discusses advancing knowledge of cancer and the medicine being used today. “Lung cancer used to be a disease seen almost exclusively in people who smoked, and affected mainly patients above the age of 60. However, there is now an alarming, rising trend of lung cancer affecting younger individuals who have no smoking history.”
“The treatment of lung cancer has also transformed significantly. In the last few years, tremendous advances and breakthroughs have resulted in medication with lesser and more tolerable side effects, better treatment results, and patients having better quality of life. Interestingly, some of these treatments seem to benefit nonsmoking patients more.”
“Over and above the traditional modalities of cancer treatment, namely surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, there is now evidence that some lung cancers may be driven by genetic abnormalities. Medication which target these genetic abnormalities are more effective and more directed towards the abnormal cells. Immune therapy is the newest modality of treatment which has recently become available for the treatment of lung cancer, where the body’s own immune system is made to work against the cancer.”
Some cancers never cause symptoms or become life-threatening, but if found by a screening test, the cancer may be treated, improve the chance of a cure or help the person live longer. Meanwhile, start with a small change in your dietary regime and exercise to build a healthy immune system as a preventive step. Beyond that, stay mindful about your personal lifestyle and live well.
Article also contributed by Dr Ang Geok Lian, Physician, Mount Alvernia Hospital Health Screening Centre. Click here to learn more about our Health Screening services.