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Medisave use to screen for 2 cancers soon

  Friday, 13 l 05 l 2011  Source: The Straits Times   
By: Salma Khalik

Tap fund to check for colorectal and breast cancers from July 1

THE use of Medisave to screen for colorectal and breast cancers – announced during the Budget debate – will come into effect on July 1. It comes in the wake of recommendations by an expert committee from the Academy of Medicine, an association of medical specialists.

Colorectal cancer is the top cancer in Singapore, with more than 1,500 cases a year. Breast cancer, with more than 1,400 cases a year, is by far the most common cancer among women. Each day, more than four people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and another four with breast cancer. If the tumours are detected early, the patients will likely survive.

Women going for a mammogram to check for breast cancer can tap Medisave to use the $300 a year allowed for outpatient treatment of chronic ailments. It costs about $100. The recommendation is for women aged 50 to 69 to go for a mammogram once every two years. Those going for a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer may draw up to $950 for it, plus $300 a day for any additional hospital charges.  The Ministry of Health (MOH) recommends that people do a colonoscopy once every 10 years from age 50. They can also do an annual stool test, which is cheap but not so accurate.

Singapore General Hospital head of colorectal surgery Tang Choong Leong said cost had been a barrier for some. Changi General Hospital senior gastroenterologist Teo Eng Kiong noted that high-risk people, such as those with polyps, need to be screened more frequently.

MOH said 52,219 people had colonoscopies last year and added that there are a million people aged 50 and older. With the freeing up of Medisave use, the number of people who get screened is likely to rise, and public hospitals are gearing up for it. National University Hospital head of colorectal surgery Charles Tsang said it can take in 1,000 more patients a year. Last year, it carried out about 5,000 colonoscopies. He said that should polyps – the precursors to colon cancer – be seen during a colonoscopy, they can be removed immediately to prevent tumours from forming. Private patients there pay $1,015 while subsidised patients pay $450.

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