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New hope for end-stage abdominal, pelvic cancer patients

  Thursday, 16 l 12 l 2010 Source:  Mind Your Body; The Straits Times   
By: Poon Chian Hui

The National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) will have a new centre to treat patients with terminal-stage abdominal and pelvic cancers. The centre within the NCCS will also be the first in South-east Asia to offer a surgical procedure called peritonectomy as a mainstream treatment, the NCCS director, Professor Soo Khee Chee, said at a press conference last month. A team comprising three surgeons, four medical oncologists, as well as nurses and paramedical staff have been trained to treat these patients at the new centre, which is helmed by Dr Melissa Teo, consultant in NCCS’s surgical oncology department. Research facilities to test the effectiveness of new chemotherapy drugs will also be integrated.  

A peritonectomy is a surgical procedure that removes visible tumours in the abdominal cavity. Heated chemotherapy agents are infused into the abdominal cavity at the end of the operation to get rid of any free-floating cancer cells. This method is traditionally used to treat a rare and slow-growing cancer called Pseudomyxoma peritonei. 

However, surgeons at NCCS are among the first in the region to modify the procedure for a wider range of abdominal cancers, such as late-stage colorectoral and ovarian cancers. A total of 77 patients, aged between 28 and 74 years, underwent this surgery at NCCS since it was first offered there 10 years ago. Sixty-five per cent of them are still alive at the end of three years, when most would have died within a year, said Prof Soo. Hailing the success of the technique, he said: “With results like that, we are keen to let the Singapore community know that you may not necessarily be suffering from a hopeless disease.  “If you are subjected to the right treatment managed by the right team, you can get a three-year survival rate for a stage 4 disease, which is really quite spectacular,” added Prof Soo. 

The operation, which takes about eight hours, requires patients to be hospitalised for about two weeks, with one day spent in the intensive care unit for monitoring. The entire treatment, including the operation, cost of drugs and hospitalization fee, comes up to about $30,000 without medical subsidy. This should not cost more than conventional chemotherapy treatment which can continue indefinitely, said Prof Soo. The centre plans to have two laboratories with 15 researchers to look into improving the survival of these patients. For instance, they will conduct experiments on animals such as mice to evaluate the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs on abdominal cancers. The centre will also be collaborating with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital to train their doctors in the technique. 

More patients have opted for peritonectomies in the last five years, with NCCS seeing a yearly increase of 10 to 20 per cent.

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