The “A Breath of Hope” Charity Dinner, organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and generously hosted by Mr Pote Lee and the Alma restaurant at the Goodwood Park Hotel, brought together leading NUS medical experts, donors and friends of the University in support of lung cancer research.
Professor C N Lee, Chairman, Centre for Healthcare Innovation and Medical Engineering, NUS, introduced the evening, which centred around a six-course tasting menu with wine pairing.
Two leading NUS doctors – Dr David Lai, Director of Surgical Research and Development, NUS Department of Surgery and Associate Professor John Tam, Senior Consultant and Founding Head of Thoracic Surgery, National University Heart Centre, Singapore –explained the trends in lung cancer, its causes and new developments in treatments.
The doctors shared some startling facts on lung cancer: it is the one of the three most common occurring cancers in the world; in Singapore, it is the most common cause of cancer deaths in men and second most common cause of cancer deaths in women. Greater than 65 per cent of lung cancer cases are picked up at an advanced stage with poor survival rates. However, when detected at a very early stage, patients can have an up to 95 per cent chance of survival.
The causes of lung cancer are manifold. Smoking, which at one stage was widely celebrated in popular culture, is seeing an alarming resurgence in Asia. Smoking, which is addictive due to its nicotine content, releases over 500 chemicals, many of which are toxins and a number of which are carcinogenic.
Interestingly, although there is a downward trend in lung cancer as the number of smokers is declining, there is an increase in the number of women, who have never smoked, presenting with lung cancer. The reasons are unknown but there is speculation this could be related to cooking fumes – for example, cooking with a wok at high temperatures can release the same toxic chemicals as smoking – as well as other factors such as air pollutants, which also contains carcinogens.
Other causes of lung cancer are radon, a radioactive gas which is found in granite and bedrock, both of which are part of Singapore’s geological make-up; asbestos which can be found in old 1970s houses; a genetic predisposition to cancer; and air pollution.
NUS is embarking on a number of projects to improve the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. The University is one of the world’s pioneers in offering single “keyhole” incision surgery to remove cancer from the lung; a less invasive treatment resulting in less pain and a speedier recovery. NUS scientists are also developing a liquid biopsy to detect cancer through a blood sample and are working in other areas such as genome sequencing, immunotherapy and precision medicine.
With lung cancer being such a devastating cancer in our society, both doctors stressed the need for more funds to advance research into the disease and provide more options for detection and treatment.
To give “a breath of hope” to lung cancer patients, the University is striving to find a tumour marker for lung cancer and create novel technologies for early diagnosis. Private support will be key in making these endeavours possible.
Prof John Tam ended the evening by sharing the best piece of advice for beating lung cancer he was given by a cancer survivor: “Be happy, be content.”
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