National Cancer Centre Singapore medical director William Hwang (left) and Singapore Cancer Society chief executive Albert Ching at the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Feb 27, 2019. PHOTO: NATIONAL CANCER CENTRE SINGAPORE

National Cancer Centre Singapore teams up with Singapore Cancer Society to make genetic screening more accessible

Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) have announced a partnership that aims to make cancer detection, prevention and treatment more accessible to patients who require financial aid.

Representatives from the two organisations signed a memorandum of understanding at the NCCS building next to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Wednesday (Feb 27).

SCS chief executive Albert Ching said that the society will share the new NCCS building, which is also on the SGH campus, when it is opened in 2022.

SCS, a voluntary welfare organisation, is currently located in Tanjong Pagar.

This will also make it easier for cancer patients to get support before, during and after treatment, such as financial aid, welfare, rehabilitation or hospice care, he said.

NCCS medical director William Hwang also announced a joint genetic screening programme, which aims to identify patients with a hereditary genetic predisposition to cancer.

He said the programme will extend subsidised screenings and prevention measures to the patients' families, who are more likely to be at risk as well.

"Currently, the cancer genetics team at NCCS sees about a hundred patients a week, but the needs are actually far more than that," said Prof Hwang.

Associate Professor Joanne Ngeow, who heads the Cancer Genetics Service at NCCS, said: "In one in 10 cancer patients, regardless of the subtype, the genetic factor is the predominant reason why they have a significantly higher risk of cancer compared to the generation population, a six- to ten-fold increased risk."

This means about 500 patients seen at NCCS each year have such a genetic predisposition. There are currently more than 400 known cancer predisposition syndromes, Prof Ngeow said.

She added: "Extensive research has shown that if we monitor these patients carefully with increased or earlier imaging, or surveillance like colonoscopies, they do as well as patients without a genetic predisposition."

A total of $2.6 million will be co-funded by NCCS and SCS over the next three years to support the programme.

This is expected to benefit more than 400 patients this year and almost 800 patients in 2021, about a quarter of whom are expected to require financial aid.

Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) cardholders can get up to $1,000 a year in financial assistance under the programme.

Taking a genetic test costs just under $1,000 and is an out-of-pocket expense for most patients.

Prof Hwang said many patients are deterred by the costs of follow-up procedures, such as regular scans, blood tests and annual colonoscopies, even after they are found to have a genetic predisposition.

Some may allow their cancer screenings to lapse, resulting in later detection and higher medical costs in the long term.

"We are trying to remove the cost barrier for patients, which can not only cause many more problems for themselves, but also creates a burden on the healthcare system as well," he said.

Besides the screening programme, NCCS and SCS will also continue to collaborate on cancer education and prevention events such as campaigns, roadshows and exhibitions.