Blood cancers occur due to abnormal function and/or production of blood cells and usually involve a patient’s blood, bone marrow or the lymphatic system.
As Singapore’s population grows older with longer life expectancies, blood cancer occurrences are expected to rise. A battle to manage the prevalence of blood cancers is uniting doctors to pool resources, provide clarity for patients and funding sources, and drive clinical trials.
Blood cancers occur due to abnormal function and/or production of blood cells and usually involve a patient’s blood, bone marrow or the lymphatic system. The workload on clinical services for blood cancers has nearly doubled over the last decade due to the ageing populace, as well as environmental and lifestyle changes.
“We want people to know that blood cancers are more common than we think,” Associate Professor William Hwang, Senior Consultant and Head of Department of Haematology, SGH, shared. “But blood cancers are now very treatable particularly if they are picked up early.”
Blood cancers have been a fruitful ground for research due to the relative ease in separating healthy and abnormal cells, versus cells in physical tumour biopsies. The scientific and clinical advances over the last 20 years have also seen molecular-targeted therapies moving from blood cancers to aid other forms of physical cancers.
Associate Professor Lim Soon Thye, Senior Consultant and Head of the Division of Medical Oncology at NCCS, highlighted, “An immediate priority is the integration of our teams. It would be a significant outcome if we can have a united group of doctors working on blood cancers and drive trials, research and better outcomes for patients.”
"That is the best way to give a patient not just access to care, but also the new drugs that a lot of trials come with."
- Assoc Prof Lim Soon Thye, Head, Division of Medical Oncology, NCCS
Today, more patients are surviving the disease thanks to revolutionary molecular-targeted blood cancer therapies. Moved by the promise of hope in new therapies, clinicians are cognizant of needs to focus treatment and research efforts and raise SingHealth’s profile in the international arena for blood cancer treatment.
“It's about having a united front to attract quality clinical trials that can translate into something meaningful. That is the best way to give a patient not just access to care, but also the new drugs that a lot of trials come with,” Prof Lim shared, remembering his patients who have survived the era of conventional chemotherapy and now utilise therapeutic genomics treatments.
“Significant changes have been made to patients' lives. There was a patient who failed everything – bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy – and almost lost her life. But she went on to trials, and she is still alive today. That drives home the message of the importance of having access to novel agents and trials. You never know what is going to be the next breakthrough.”
A one-stop centre for patients to receive quality clinical care through consistent and world-standard treatment is in the pipeline: The SingHealth Duke-NUS Blood Cancer Centre, a SingHealth Duke-NUS Disease Centre (SDDC). Prof Hwang and Prof Lim have been named Head and Deputy Head of the Centre respectively, bringing together clinicians from SGH, KKH, NCCS and SKGH in distilling efforts to fight the disease.
Frameworks of the centre are being laid out, with a final physical site to be established in the later phase of the SGH Campus redevelopment, in 2020.
“The trainees of today will potentially have super therapy available to them to fight the cancer crisis of the future,” Prof Hwang said. “The Centre will help in grooming international key opinion leaders in the field of blood cancers, who have undergone strong training with a combined team of experts. We hope to become even better, together.”
Assoc Prof William Hwang
Head, SingHealth Duke-NUS Blood Cancer Centre
Head, Department of Haematology,
Singapore General Hospital
Assoc Prof Lim Soon Thye
Deputy Head, SingHealth Duke-NUS Blood Cancer Centre
Head, Division of Medical Oncology,
National Cancer Centre Singapore