New Cancer Therapies: Planning Ahead
Singapore may be a small island nation but we enjoy great life expectancy, among the highest in the world1. However, living longer comes hand in hand with a higher likelihood that we will face more years living with some form of disease, including cancer2. In fact, the number of cancer cases have increased by 17% since 20103. Thankfully, improvements in cancer treatments have significantly improved survival rates4.
Among these recent developments in cancer therapy are cell, tissue and gene therapy – at this time, Singapore is the first in Southeast Asia to offer these therapies, which offer a beacon of hope for patients who have found other forms of cancer treatment unsuccessful5.
What is cell, tissue and gene therapy?
Conventional cancer treatment involves surgery to remove the tumour, combined with the use of strong drugs known as chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy which is the use of radiation, to destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent the cancer from returning6.
Cell, tissue and gene therapy work differently, using human or animal cells or tissue instead of drugs or chemicals7. As a therapeutic category, it is relatively new and offers many possibilities for treating a wide range of conditions, including cancer, by repairing or replacing damaged tissues or faulty genes8,9.
For example, problems with the p53 gene have been linked to several types of cancer, hence fixing this gene to restore its proper function could help destroy the cancer10. Advancements in gene therapy could also allow doctors to prevent further growth of the cancerous cells, starve them or cause them to die11. To-date, breakthroughs in gene therapy have enabled doctors to treat leukaemia more effectively12, which accounts for 30 to 40% of all childhood cancers in Singapore13.
Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells that starts in the bone marrow, creating abnormal white blood cells that spread to the blood, lymph nodes and other organs. While healthy white blood cells help to protect the body against disease, leukaemia makes them defective and also prevents the bone marrow from its normal functions of producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. There is no known way to prevent it as most cases develop from non-inherited gene mutations in growing blood cells14.
Other types of cancer that may be treated using cell, tissue and gene therapy include lymphoma, which is the fifth most common cancer in males and sixth in females in Singapore15.
However, while cell, tissue and gene therapy is very promising, each patient’s case is unique and only a doctor can provide advice on the most appropriate form of therapy, and its associated risks and benefits.
Prudent planning for the future
As the risk for developing cancer increases with age and our increasing life expectancy, it is only wise to plan ahead, against the possible need to finance treatment for chronic conditions like cancer.
This is especially relevant with the recent adjustments to the Ministry of Health’s cancer insurance model to limit claims and eligibility for cancer therapy16 in an effort to reign in rising government spending on cancer drugs, which has been growing at a compound annual growth rate of 20% between 2017 and 202017.
Overall, the cost of cancer therapy varies greatly according to the stage and type of cancer, type of therapy, duration of treatment, and many other factors. By some estimates, traditional cancer treatments cost several hundred dollars a month while newer forms of treatment can cost in excess of S$5,000 a month18.
The Ministry of Health offers the following total cost estimates for treatment of cancer of the blood and lymph nodes (without severe complications)19:
|Public Hospitals/Centres (subsidised)||Public Hospitals/Centres (unsubsidised)||Private Hospitals/Centres|
|S$3,393 for Ward B2||S$8,616 for Ward B1||S$17,479 for inpatient treatment|
To help you plan for the future and prepare against the possible need for treatment, the Star Secure Pro plan offers comprehensive, life-long coverage. In addition to protection against total and permanent disability and terminal illness, the rider, Early Life Accelarator, now also incorporates a new Special Therapy Benefit20 that applies to those receiving cell, tissue and gene therapy for the treatment of catastrophic cancers (such as leukaemia, lymphoma and stage 4 malignant tumours).
Star Secure Pro also caters to different financial situations, allowing you to choose your desired level of protection and duration of premiums, with the option to supplement your coverage with riders for additional protection.
Available since September 2022, find out more about the full extent of coverage here.