SINGAPORE – Cancer screening and rehabilitation will be made more accessible to the public, with plans by the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) to bring more of such services to the heartlands. 

The society on Feb 17 announced at its 60th anniversary event a series of initiatives focused on early detection and cancer care, including an upcoming cancer genetics service screening programme with National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS). 

The celebration, held at Our Tampines Hub, featured health talks and a dialogue session with cancer survivors. It was attended by Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung and adviser to Tampines GRC grassroots organisations Koh Poh Koon. 

In a speech at the event, Mr Ong said that cancer is the No. 1 killer in Singapore, and many Singaporeans have met cancer – either undergoing treatment themselves or watching a loved one go through it. 

Singapore can tackle this disease in four ways – through prevention; making treatments accessible; investing in the science of new treatment like cell, tissue and gene therapies; and having support for patients, he said. 

The minister said that the Healthier SG initiative would help in cancer prevention. The preventive health programme includes free screenings for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers. Those enrolled in the programme will have regular consultations with their family doctors. 

“The Ministry of Health is paying doctors to nag you to go for your tests,” said Mr Ong. 

Speaking at the event, SCS chairman Lee Meng Tat said that in 2023, the society screened more than 124,000 individuals and provided more than $2 million in financial support. 

To date, SCS has disbursed more than $46 million via its various treatment and welfare aid funds, and benefited more than 23,000 beneficiaries. The SCS Cancer Rehabilitation Centre @ NCCS, the only dedicated cancer rehabilitation centre in Singapore, has provided rehabilitation services to over 2,600 cancer patients. 

Going forward, the society will roll out initiatives to ensure that cancer patients can access the services they need in a smooth way, improve early detection and foster a more empathetic society for cancer patients. 

Mr Lee said the society is partnering with cancer institutions in Singapore to open two new rehabilitation centres in 2024, one of which is targeted at patients newly diagnosed with cancer or undergoing treatment. 

The NCCS-SCS Rehabilitation Centre will provide cancer rehabilitation services to support patients in a sub-acute setting by the second quarter of 2024. Sub-acute care is healthcare for those who need help to regain their ability to carry out activities of daily life. 

The society will also offer its community rehab services at the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore to expand its outreach to patients living in the west. 

Mr Lee added that the society’s goal is to improve the availability and accessibility of cancer screening services. To do so, it will work with the regional health clusters to bring such services closer to the heartland through satellite centres across Singapore. 

A pilot will start with Singhealth at the National Cancer Centre Building, said SCS in a press release, without giving further details. 

“These centres will aim to be a hub for advocacy, outreach and education to the public. There will also be support extended to those positive cases to ensure follow-through to reduce dropouts,” said SCS. 

SCS and NCCS will also work together to make cancer genetics service screening more accessible to Singaporeans, especially those in financial need. Further details will be released at a later date. 

Cancer survivor and active SCS volunteer Ellil Mathiyan Lakshmanan, 64, said the rehabilitation programmes will make a huge difference for cancer patients. 

Mr Ellil was diagnosed with both rectal and testicular cancers in 2011 and went through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. The treatments left him with side effects, which include chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, where nerves in extremities like hands and feet are damaged. 

“Your fingers and your toes have that tingly feeling, and you can have problems buttoning up your shirt or cooking. Rehabilitation programmes will teach you exercises to manage this, so patients can do their daily functions and relieve symptoms,” said Mr Ellil.